At the recently concluded CII National HR Conclave, I had the pleasure of asking Sanjiv Mehta, MD of Hindustan Unilever Ltd, whether there was a possibility of industry-academia collaboration in India. Mehta was quiet frank to acknowledge that American organisations enjoy a dominant position in world’s economy owing to their agility and willingness to foster mutually beneficial relations with their universities. One will find a similar sentiment while considering other developed regions like Europe or Australia.
I grew up in a generation where under-graduate studies had little semblance to the industry requirements. This gap was so huge that companies would enrol fresh graduates into ‘knowledge training’ for a good 3-6 months, even though they were recruited through ‘campus placements’. Those who missed campus placements had to enrol into ‘specialised coaching’ to find work. Imagine the wastage of precious man-hours! It is indeed a sad commentary on our approach, that there has not been a significant invention from within India for decades.
While the curriculum taught today seems more cohesive with industry needs, we are still a long way from home. It is heartening to see today’s government recognising the need for a closer collaboration between the industry and academia to make our graduates industry-ready. Let us look at some of the possible options of this collaboration:
What to teach?
While the basics of any course remain constant, academia should be aware of the most recent changes shaping their fields. Private schools tend to move quickly to incorporate these changes. Public institutions find it difficult to come up to speed. Thus, there is no bandwidth to invest on the future. This is where industry through its deep pockets can accelerate innovation by co-creating world-class research centres within universities. To put it simply, industry can direct research opportunities to academia, leading to resolution of current issues as well as initiating newer questions that could change the course entirely. A willingness to revisit the employment clauses, promotions and confidentiality by universities will go a long way in assuaging the fears of industry partners. Exposing researchers to cutting-edge technology and problem resolution will not only help companies maintain their strategic advantages but also help teach students the most relevant topics without having the need to re-train them post studies.
Where are the jobs of tomorrow?
Considering that graduates want to be job-ready, it is important to have clarity on the kind of profile requirements companies are seeking. Early 2000s were a classic example of this miscalculation between industry requirement of skilled IT labour and supply of graduates from academia. It led to such a supply crunch that the IT industry had to absorb graduates from non-related backgrounds in order to satisfy their recruitment needs. Newer pastures in terms of Big Data and Blockchain are coming up fast. It is necessary to expedite the conversion of ideas into a product. A closer collaboration between the industry and academia should have been able to foresee as well as overcome this paradigm shift and work towards an effective resolution.
Founded by a group of entrepreneurs, EDHEC Business School’s mission has been able to foster creativity, risk-taking, leadership and the entrepreneurial spirit. EDHEC Business Club has over 150 corporate members and recruiting partners. Some of these partners collaborate to teach classes in the fields of their expertise. These relations are fostered through a continuous collaboration between the programme directors and corporate sponsors. EDHEC Risk Institute’s leading product - Scientific Beta helps its users invest in advanced Beta Equity Strategies. Not all of it would have been possible without industry collaboration.
No government would want to play mischief in a win-win situation for the country’s education system and alleviation of labour environment. Governments in the developed countries provide ‘tax concessions’ to companies for collaborating with academia. A similar scheme could do wonders to the scenario in India. It is imperative that industry bodies like CII and others take up this case on a war-footing.
Thus, the industry-academia partnership can actively seek to establish a company’s strategic dominance as well as keep its talent pipeline strong. For the academia, this partnership will ensure an upward trajectory for its researchers in staying abreast with upcoming challenges and their resolutions.
Nilesh Gaikwad is Country Manager at EDHEC Business School, France. He can be reached at