“Coming together is beginning, keeping together is progress and working together is success” and no success can benefit a nation as much as the one that emerges out of strong interdependency between science and business. Acknowledging this and the growing necessity for research to serve both commercial and academic interest, the German Centre for Research and Innovation – DWIH New Delhi organized its annual flagship event Indo-German Dialogue: Industry Academia Cooperation on 26th September 2018 at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.
Inaugurated by DWIH New Delhi’s Director Ms. Heike Mock, the occasion was graced by H.E. Dr Martin Ney – Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to India, who intensely advocated the concept of “research intermingling with business” thereby creating a perfect scenario wherein international contacts and a cosmopolitan mindset become the key secrets for success. Reiterating this, DAAD President Prof Dr Margret Wintermantel in her special address stated that “both India and Germany demonstrate high priority when it comes to continually nourishing innovation and collaboration. This can also be observed from the way in which reputed Indian institutes such as IIT Delhi try to secure a healthy environment for start-ups to flourish, while organisations such as the Fraunhofer Society strive to carve out research that can benefit both industries and the Government in Germany”
Taking the discussions forward, Prof Dr Furqan Qamar - Secretary General, Association of Indian Universities delivered a key note focusing on the opportunities and challenges for sustainable cooperation between Industry and Academia in the country. Further validating his point, Dr Qamar claimed that research gets easily translated to commercial use when universities and industry work closely. This happens, more so, because when working together universities get easy access to resources, while industry on the side lay hands on university’s readily available manpower. But, while different levels of interactions exist between a university and an industry partner; what is desired is that both players move from low to high levels of interaction by trying to meet each other’s expectations and get over prevailing social snobbism.
Moving from the theoretical to the more practical side of the theme, the event next invited short presentations from representatives of two start-ups known as Clensta and Videoken, which preceded a brief presentation by Prof. Dr. Chokri Cherif. Director, Institute of Textile Machinery and High Performance Material Technology, TU Dresden, Dr Cherif in his presentation detailed out the potential and challenges of fibre-based composites in technical and medical application areas. Moreover, as a part of his lecture, he also explained about the existing organisations in Germany based on the type of research carried out by them viz. basic research, pre-competitive research and application oriented research.
Moving on to the highlight of this event – an expert panel on Innovation and Incubation as key factors in Industry and Academia Cooperation truly stole the show. Extending the dais to few of the biggest names such as Director, IIT Madras - Prof Dr Ramamurthy, CEO, Siemens India - Mr Sunil Mathur, President, TU Darmstadt - Prof Dr-Ing. Hans Jürgen Prömel, Vice-President - International Affairs, University of Heidelberg - Prof Dr Dieter W. Heermann and Prof Dr Chokri Cherif, the panel was chaired by none other than Dr Michael Harms, Director - Communications, DAAD Bonn.
Diving deep into the concept of industry academia cooperation, deliberations during the expert panel lead to the following conclusions:
Outlook on industry academia cooperation
The concept of industry – academia cooperation is understood to be quite old and such interactions usually begin with individual contacts that sometimes materialize into long term cooperation or even project funding.
Application oriented education
Germany gives a lot of high regard to skill development as against India where learning is not geared towards labour market. One should be educated to sustain for a long time, while a distinction between basic education and specialization is maintained. Also, sometimes there is a need to combine education with application; particularly in the context of many new opportunities or fields which open up newer options for people.
There is a huge difference between the perspectives of university and industry. Also, research needs infrastructure that is extremely expensive and not easily accessible. In addition to this, funds available from corporates as a part of their CSR and sustainability initiatives can only be used with certain restrictions as the same are not meant to make profits. Additionally, the corporates also at times find it hard to understand how to tie-up with universities and what are the expectations one aims to fulfil through such co-operations. Hence, what is imperative is to comprehend the possibilities in which the two can be brought together and in the right ways.
Role of entrepreneurship at universities
Entrepreneurship plays an important and strategic role and there are a number of universities that support the start-up culture. Furthermore, there are incubation centres at universities that provide an environment conducive to trying new ideas. However, above and beyond funding, research, space etc. what is of utmost importance for entrepreneurship is right mentoring at the university level.
A lot of efforts are being taken in order to strengthen industry academia cooperation in India. While IIT Madras has put together a development office to reach out to industry and other foundations and patented around 180 start-ups of both alumni and individuals from outside the campus, corporates like Siemens hire 4000 research engineers every year and have interactions with reputed institutions throughout the country. Likewise, future steps being considered for the same purpose also include embedding faculty members in industry so as to tap their potential for problem solving at the industry level and adoption of rural-technology incubators to help rural India.
Thus, as understood from the insights shared as a part of this event, while India has never been divided on the idea of start-ups or entrepreneurship being of prime importance for the development and success of the country, innovation has still remained a less explored area that has a huge potential and has been crying for attention.