In the knowledge-driven India of tomorrow, it is critical for our people factories (schools and colleges) to be modernised also. Some things are obvious: like high-speed Internet connectivity, emphasis on English, Maths and Science, and computer training from the early days. But a lot more needs to be done at our educational institutions, especially at the graduate and post-graduate levels.
- Emphasise Faculty-led Research: To train students well, it is necessary to attract good faculty. One of the motivations for faculty is the ability to do research in their chosen areas. The other advantage of driving research is in the creation of intellectual property, which can be licensed to industry and generate recurring income for the institution. Institutions should make 3-4 areas where they want to focus, and build “centres of excellence” around these areas.
- Increase Industry Interaction: In India, there is very limited industry-academia interaction. This has to change. Industry can contribute RD funds but the academic institutions need to be ready to receive them! This means ensuring that for industry-sponsored projects, there is someone willing to take responsibility and the projects are completed on schedule. Again, for this, the lead needs to taken by the faculty. Students will come and go, but the projects need to endure with a longer-term focus. Increasing the interaction with industry will also lend a “practicality” to what students learn ad experience.
- Nurture Entrepreneurship: Some educational institutions like IIT-Bombay are setting up incubators on campus to encourage entrepreneurship. That is not enough. There needs to be formal training to students, not just the availability of space and technology infrastructure. Interested students and researchers need to also be taught the softer skills which are needed for setting up and building companies. Faculty needs to be allowed to co-found or own equity stakes in start-ups. There is venture capital available in India. By using educational institutions as hubs, a strong base for entrepreneurship can be created.
- Leverage Alumni: Institutions need to build a skillset database of their alumni, who can be encouraged to put up their personal backgrounds and technical skills, and areas where they can mentor teams/projects. Each person coming from abroad should aim to give talks at least 2 institutions during the India visit. This is the one way we can get people here to get a feel for what is happening internationally and what the real state-of-the-art is.
- Set up Distance Learning: Institutions need to create online programmes in many core areas for professionals to learn and upgrade their skills through the Internet. As technologies change and evolve, it has become imperative for professionals to re-tool along their careers. This interaction with educational institutions can also help facilitate closer industry link-ups.
To make it all work together is at least a 5-year commitment. We need to use the educational institutions as anchors, not just in a single city, but across the country. We need constant interactions with people from industry visiting from abroad. We need investments in bandwidth and infrastructure. Money will be the least of the worries if we can put together a programme with good, committed people heading it in India and internationally. The need to build a technology foundation at our educational institutions is critical if we are going to emerge as an IT superpower and hotbed on innovation in the next decade.