Industry-academia interactions: Bridging the gap

Industry-academia interactions: Bridging the gap

One important way of facilitating interaction between academia and industry is for teachers to take sabbatical at business organisations in their field of expertise. Such involvement will facilitate mutual understanding of each other’s strengths and challenges, say Alka Ahuja, Sanjula Baboota, Javed Ali and R K Khar

In the third millennium, we have witnessed a lot of technological changes. These changes, however, have not been properly used by our graduates in order to compete in the present scenario. It is essential to have industry-academia interactions which will help to impart relevant knowledge and will be sustainable in the changing conditions.

Academic institutes place great importance to closer interaction with industry and R&D organisations. At the level of industry participation in technology development, some interaction has been witnessed between large public and private sector enterprises and academic institutes. Still, industry support to basic research is virtually non-existent. Laboratory utilisation by industry for developmental purposes and for product testing has seen some success. With the help of continuing education programmes (CEP), participation from the industry is gradually on an increase. The areas in which interaction is possible include industry support to basic research for knowledge creation, industry participation in technology development involving some exploratory work, academic intervention in solving industry problems, laboratory utilisation by industry and CEP.

Industry needs and expectations

Large industrial houses have the resources to invest in technology development initiatives. Academic participation is often needed in minor technological innovation. Small scale industries often depend on support in the areas of design, process improvement and machinery performance etc. They also rely on processes to yield a product which already exists. In some cases, problem solving may simply amount to product testing and production enhancement in terms of quantity and quality. In such interactions, industry’s expected time frames have been immediate and investment is directed towards efforts that promise result oriented solutions.

Academia expectations

An academician shows interest normally in problems that are intellectually challenging. His areas of interest lie in technology development initiatives and methods related to process and design improvement. Researchers have strong preference for working towards creation of knowledge in specialised areas. For industry-related problems, a researcher has to explore a variety of options which is time consuming.

In academic institutions, time frame of an academician is governed by research guidance and teaching assignments.

Academicians are oriented towards R&D activities of the industry for funds which helps them to sustain their broader research interests.

Gap between industry and academia

Gap between the needs of the industry and aspirations of academic community is very large. Academicians always have a strong feeling that unless these initiatives find a place in industrial sector, this interaction will be confined to only developmental activities. There is a strong mismatch in perceptions of the two on the issues related to technology development. At present, the academic community is not geared to face this challenge of translating evolving idea into technology development.

Avenues for future

A support system is needed to ensure a focused involvement of both academia and industry. Academic institutions should develop systems and procedures to ensure that industry expectations are met without any compromise on academic aspirations. Initially, academia should conceive and take up short term, small budget projects which would instill confidence in industry and encourage it to start development projects. Industry also has to give a fresh look to its R&D efforts. This process must be guided by a complete shift from trading set up to a technologically- driven entrepreneurial set up. Academia should tilt the focus of basic research to applicative research. Research initiatives involving industry people with flexible formats could serve as the first step in this direction.

Venues should be created for close interaction starting from conceptualisation down to commercialisation. Setting up of technology incubation centres in close proximity of academic institutions could provide for fostering wholesome technology development.

Venues should be created for close interaction starting from conceptualisation down to commercialisation. Setting up of technology incubation centres in close proximity of academic institutions could provide for fostering wholesome technology development

Interaction between industry and doctoral programmes

Pharmaceutical education is a foundation on which the structure of the pharmaceutical industry, R&D and pharmaceutical technologies is built up by supplying qualified pharmacists to the industry. The interaction should begin when researchers are doctoral students and should continue well after they start their careers. Some institutions fear that if students involve in industry work, it might distract them from their doctoral work. But it should be considered as part of the education. Industry provides research topics, funding and access to data for research. Industry also provides an opportunity for employment outside the traditional academic setting.

The question of who holds the patent rights to a specific development is a major issue. Academic institutions are scared of losing patent rights to a particular research where industry is involved. At the same time several academic researchers profit from their research through business books, industry consulting and speaking engagements. Therefore, academic research and the pursuit of profit are not mutually exclusive.

One important way of facilitating interaction between academia and industry is for teachers to take sabbatical at business organisations in their field of expertise. Such involvement will facilitate mutual understanding of each other’s strengths and challenges.

In order to ensure that the teaching programmes and the curricula meet the challenging needs of the industry, senior personnel from industry should be involved as expert members of the committees which vet changes in curricula as well as new academic programmes. To provide a real-life exposure of the industrial world to its students, a vacation training programme can be organised. Programme can include industrial training of faculty and students with a built-in provision of incentives as well as for the appointment of adjunct faculty from the industry.

Provision of having honourary professors/faculty both from the industry and R&D organisation gives an exposure to the students of interacting with working professionals. Several laboratories have been sponsored by the industry. Softwares worth millions of rupees have been donated by Technology companies.

Knowledge transfer

The industry can hire significant number of students. This is a highly effective form of technology transfer. While working in the industry, students frequently return to universities and colleges to recruit new students.

Industry and government research relationships

Many researchers are working in advisory or consulting capacities with a number of companies. In some cases principal investigators in research hold positions on the technical advisory board. Large scale collaborative projects are also being carried out in certain institutions.

Summer camps

These can be arranged in collaboration with the industry to expose the students to various academic and extra curricular activities. These can comprise a series of lectures and presentations from distinguished professionals from the industry and academia, video shows on some industry projects, group discussions, debates and field trip to some industrial houses. These camps serve as a forum for the development of over all personality, leadership, organisational skills and exemplary team work which are essential for a successful career in addition to academic activities.

Camps provide a platform for professionals to enrich the participants with their first hand experiences in the field and their professional expertise.

Provision for scale up operation

Most of our students develop new products or processes which are restricted as bench experiments. Due to non-availability of scale up processes as a result of capital and operational cost, the research is not able to reach the market.Interaction and informal tie ups can ensure successful implementation of work developed in the institution.

Consultancy services

Academic institutions can help the industrial houses by providing consultancy services which are sought by small-scale entrepreneurs having no access to R&D and quality control facilities. It can be in the form of evaluation of products, processes, software development etc.

Important principles for industry academic interaction

Following principles can be used as guidelines:

a) Open academic environment: It is the responsibility of the administration, the academic senate and departmental faculty to establish appropriate norms for existence of an open environment

b) Freedom to publish: Freedom to publish is fundamental to the university and is a major criterion for the research project. Faculty should be encouraged to engage in outside projects. These at the same time, should not interfere with their performance of teaching and research duties.

The writers are with Dept of Pharmaceutics, Faculty of Pharmacy, Jamia Hamdard, New Delhi