Power of blended learning

Power of blended learning

Currently, Karnataka contributes ~40% of the Engineering Research and Development (Engineering R&D) revenues in India

Representative Image. Credit: iStock Photo

Industry-academia collaboration has been foretold in various policy statements of the Government of India. The Ministry of Education, while preparing the last National Policy on Education in 1986, noted that the collaboration between industry and technical institutions remained weak despite urging for closer cooperation. Subsequently, the policy, adopted by Parliament in 1986, emphasised the need for an alliance and envisioned active collaborations between technical and management institutions, and industry to foster the research ecosystem in the country and enhance the growth of the economy, industry, and society at large.

However, despite attempts to have heightened industry-academia-research collaborations, India saw marginal success in the past. One of the key reasons was that important scientific research output was not reaching society effectively due to bottlenecks in the commercialisation of technologies. An obvious rationale for this disconnect seemed to be the difference in underlying drivers of research and innovation across industry and universities, as also the absence of economic compulsion. While industry focus was always on market-relevant research for commercialisation, academia was more focused on research to enhance knowledge, publications, and teaching.

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Gradually, India has started to see a shift in this approach as there was renewed interest and value seen in industry partnerships to advance research, and there was value seen in this win-win situation wherein the academia got an opportunity to work on relevant technologies, while industry started to gain employable talent with specialised knowledge and hands-on training.

Today, academia wishes to see results from their research put into practice, and there is a trend amongst the current cohort of students to explore entrepreneurial careers, often with a focus on social enterprise. The industry is effectively translating academic research into technologies, thus resulting in a win-win situation for both sectors. As a result, there is a renewed energy to promote industry-academia partnerships for the transfer of technology more than ever before.

This renewed interest also got an impetus from conducive policy environments in some states, with restored hope through the National Education Policy, NEP 2020.

NEP, an opportunity 

Higher educational institutes (HEIs) in India have recognised the significance of entrepreneurship programmes and are now looking at focusing on research and innovation across the range of subjects they provide. HEIs will offer vocational education either on their own or in partnership with the industry. They are setting up startup incubation centres, technology development centres, centres in frontier areas of research, which in turn is providing greater industry-academic linkages.

The NEP 2020 also designs the establishment of a National Research Foundation (NRF) with an overarching goal to enable a culture of research to permeate through our universities. The NRF will act as a liaison between researchers and relevant branches of government as well as an industry so as to allow breakthroughs to be optimally brought into policy and implementation, and will recognise outstanding research and progress that is of greater economic value to the nation.

The fundamentals of the new National Education Policy is encouraging a blended learning experience with the industry and research institutes, which will further blur the line between industry and academic research and promote industry-academia interactions. Having more research and incubation cells will also resonate with the Hon’ble Prime Minister’s flagship initiative ‘Startup India’ & his vision of an Atmanirbhar Bharat, which can be realised only if higher education institutions emerge as a fertile ground for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Keeping the vision alive, the Department of Technical Education (DTE), Government of Karnataka, has signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Bangalore Chamber of Industry and Commerce (BCIC) to ensure students from polytechnics across the state are both employable and entrepreneurial. Establishing the DTE-BCIC Case Centre will help DTE students learn from real-world case studies and provide opportunities for students to plan their career path leading to employment, entrepreneurship, research and higher education. We have also signed MoUs with 23 companies spread across various sectors such as electric vehicles, data centres, aerospace, and defence to attract investments worth over Rs 28,000 crore to generate nearly 15,000 direct jobs. Also, the new IT policy 2020-25 promises infrastructure development, ecosystem engagement and talent development (skilling).

Currently, Karnataka contributes ~40% of the Engineering Research and Development (Engineering R&D) revenues in India. This is being supported by a robust Engineering R&D across government, industry, startups, and academia. The ultimate aim is to develop self-sustaining localised Engineering R&D manufacturing/production capabilities within Karnataka.

Earlier this year, the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) set up a regional academic centre for space at the National Institute of Technology Karnataka (NITK) at Surathkal in Dakshina Kannada district. The centre will conduct joint research and development in space technology applications to meet the needs of our space programmes.

Bridging the gap

While it is a promising time for industry-institute partnerships to stimulate innovation through a cohesive learning system, the Indian industry-academia collaboration still faces stiff competition on a global scale. To meet the challenges, we need to make unrelenting efforts on resource generation and faculty exposure for technical education institutes. This also means we must make provision for continuing education in universities and institutions for practising engineers to update their technology competence. Lastly, creating clusters of industries and academic institutions at the same location would go a long way in helping academia collaborate with their respective industries.

India has embarked on a journey towards creating an enabling environment by putting in place an ecosystem that breeds innovation.

(The writer is Minister for Higher Education, Government of Karnataka)

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