The yawning gap that exists between the industry and the academia and the challenges faced in making the two entities come closer and work together have been highlighted very often. Several attempts are being made on a continual basis to bridge the gap through the initiatives of industry associations as well as through the individual efforts of select academic institutions and the corporates. These efforts include participating in joint seminars to understand the needs, faculty training, industry sponsored training and research and industry supported curriculum.
Lately Sector Skills Councils are also playing an important role in this sphere as can be seen from the enormous efforts put into defining the job roles, the qualification packs and the curriculum framework with the help of active industry participation and getting the academic institutions to adopt these guidelines as part of their curriculum. There have also been successful initiatives to set up incubation centres in some of the universities thus creating a cradle of innovation linked to market needs and enabling the academic institutions to get aligned with the emerging trends of the economy.
All such efforts are important steps undertaken from time to time for industry and academia to collaborate and create meaningful synergies. It is also realised that these initiatives require to be broad-based to cover larger sections of the country. Further most of the current efforts are emanating from the macro perspective and the trickle down effect at the unit level is miniscule or difficult to realise in a seamless fashion. In other words, we are yet to create mechanisms for the free flow of information and knowledge exchange at various levels which would facilitate the multiplier effect for the partnerships to become meaningful. Digital technology could be a powerful tool to bridge this gap and enable industry academia partnerships to assume significance.
The desire for forging relationship between the industry and the academia should get translated into a formal strategy which facilitates participation at every level. The strategic intent should be woven around well thought out technology approach not just to build linkages but also to overcome the challenges of time, space and expertise required to make the partnerships successful. Different dimensions of academic functioning should be identified where technology linkages could be embedded. While placement linkages are the ones which many academic institutions consider as important and hence have started building portals to showcase the capabilities of their students, there needs to be focussed efforts on collaboration in other dimensions as well to realise the true potential of the partnerships.
To enable the faculty enrich their curriculum delivery by making it possible to bring in real life examples into classroom discussions and encourage students to relate the theoretical concepts with practical situations, it would be useful to create extended social media networks between the representatives of industry and the academic institutions for collaborating on specific projects or themes. Industry could also use such platforms to share current trends and practices in the industry and pose questions for the classrooms to deliberate and come up with potential solutions. These dialogues over social networks will help in germinating ideas for projects or internships that students could undertake which could lead to meaningful learning.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) funds are currently used by the industry for a variety of purposes. One of the avenues for CSR spend could be investment in technology for forging better linkages with select academic institutions in their geographic area of concentration with the long term perspective could be beneficial for both. Building online content, MOOC and engaging through virtual classrooms could be useful methods of establishing new standards and contemporariness in curriculum that is imparted thus making the talent output more aligned with their needs.
Identifying mentors from the industry and assigning them to students as they find pathways for their careers could be another excellent method of engagement between the industry and the academia. Mentoring portals set up specially for this purpose could be adopted by the academic institutions to establish individual contacts between the student and the industry mentor which if developed with care can create a huge positive impact and exposure.
Most often the dialogue on industry academia partnership seems to veer around the dependence of the academia on the industry and how the academic institutions could be supported and very little attention is given to how the industry could benefit through the active engagement of academic researchers. We have innumerable examples of successful partnerships between the academia and the industry in the US indicative of healthy collaboration and respect for each other. India needs to emulate this mode of partnership and make a modest start by setting up specific forums on the digital platforms for sharing the research projects underway in the university system and inviting the industry to participate in them to initiate new collaborative projects. Companies should actively consider sabbaticals by way of loaning their executives for a certain period of time as a regular practice and with others encouraging them to set aside part of their time to be spent with the academia through online collaboration for joint research initiatives.
In a country like ours which has huge resource constraints, we need innovative approaches and out of the box thinking in order to enhance the quality of education system and expand the research capabilities and digital technology is an essential ingredient to this strategy.
The writer is CEO, Global Talent Track, a corporate training solutions company.