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In India, IITs shift focus to driving industry-sponsored research

By David Schwartz
Published: October 3rd, 2017

The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) — the top tier research institutes where most of that country’s faculty innovations emerge from — have started engaging more with industry to drive research partnerships and create new work opportunities for their graduating PhD students, who often have no employment options outside academia.

The new strategic focus is aimed at increasing the percent of total research funding that comes from industry to as high as 50%, from the current 10% to 15%. Examples of the change can be found at IIT Delhi, which is exploring more industry placement opportunities its newly minted PhDs, and at IIT Madras, where five experienced corporate execs have been hired as industry relation advisors to help develop research collaborations. The institute is also incentivizing faculty members to spend two to six weeks a year on industrial sites.

“Very often the industry does not know what we are doing and we do not know what they want. This time we are making a proactive effort to bridge the gap,” said V Ramgopal Rao, director of IIT Delhi. The institute recently held an “Industry Day” on campus where students could connect with industry executives – an event that included prototypes that received feedback on how to make the products more commercially relevant.

“All these years’ research was more publication and possibility driven than industry-driven. Our aim is now to bridge the gap,” said Krishnan Balasubramanian, professor of mechanical engineering at IIT Madras. The institute is in the process of creating an intellectual property management cell with patent agents who will be industry professionals.

Meanwhile, IIT Kanpur is creating a non-profit company to invite start-ups in campus incubators to get help reaching the marketplace. “All this is to drive more partnership with the private industry,” said Indranil Manna, director of IIT Kanpur.

Industry is anxious to take advantage of the new willingness to partner. There is increasing acceptance that many of the technology solutions available overseas are best suited for conditions outside of India. This has led to the need for adapting research to Indian conditions and to increase academic collaborations to accelerate R&D and innovation.

“Indian industry needs to spend a lot more on R&D and technology. I consider it a prerequisite for India to become a manufacturing economy with high manufacturing value add,” said Pawan Goenka, managing director of multinational conglomerate Mahindra & Mahindra and chairman of the board of governors of IIT Madras.

Goenka said the industry partnership efforts should be viewed as a whole, not as individual projects with their own P&Ls. “Not every R&D project can lead to a successful product, but blockbuster products will emerge in some instances and will pay for all the R&D investment,” he said. “Industry needs to have patience for results and academia needs to travel an extra mile to take research to a point where industry can pick it up.”

Source: The Economic Times

Posted under: Industry-Sponsored Research Week

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