Providing one solution to the plight of industry-academia gap, Prof. V. Ramgopal Rao, Group Vice Chancellor at the Birla Institute of Technology & Science, Pilani Campuses shares his insights with Tanay Kumar, Special Correspondent, Education Post.
We come to know about a recent development at BITS Pilani that the institute will give students and faculty a year off to work. What brought about such a pathbreaking decision?
We are only highlighting the possibilities. See, in India, everybody is in a kind of hurry to finish their education and take up a job. On the other hand, in the West, students easily take a year off and go around the world, explore possibilities, and observe things at several places and come back to finish their study. So, taking breaks in the USA and Europe is very common. Some people in the West opt to work for a year in the midst of their education and then come back to complete their study.
In fact, at BITS Pilani, after graduation, if a student has not found what they are looking for in the company they got placed during campus placements, they can come back and look for other jobs out of the placement activities by placement cells. So, we are only helping them with these opportunities and try out something new. Letting them explore other possibilities of the world within their study may enable them to come up with ideas to start their own ventures and start-ups.
Students and people will have to be enabled to start their own micro and small enterprises, if India wants to solve its unemployment issues. If our demographic dividend doesn’t explore these possibilities and other opportunities, it may not utilize its full potential.
We thank you for pointing out an issue last year about a majority of students looking only for CS/IT, and even many seats of electronics going unfilled. In your view, how can this situation be resolved?
Solution has to come from all the different levels. Probably, the fear of missing out is a driving factor behind opting CS/IT in the majority. Getting a job right after obtaining a Bachelor’s degree could also be a reason. Another apprehension could be that pursuing higher education in the non-CS/IT branches would only mean becoming a professor. Unless one wants to be in the academic area, many students don’t really want to pursue higher education. So, these are the reasons that students are taking that decision.
Awareness is the key issue here. Even many entrepreneurs with a Bachelor’s degree in engineering are majorly in either e-commerce or FinTech sectors. Majority of the unicorns have been founded by B.Tech. graduates and many of them come from a particular community where doing business comes naturally to them and when they come to a place like IIT, they receive a training as well.
In the last 10 years, we haven’t seen any start-up that became a unicorn in biotechnology or nano-technology or space or quantum technology space. And, it hasn’t happened because one needs a much deeper understanding of these subjects to innovate in these areas, which can only be attained by working either in the related industries for long time or by pursuing higher education and research.
Many students from core engineering sectors, e.g. biotechnology, are also entering the IT sector. Unfortunately, a biotechnology company would hardly pay that amount of remuneration to an entry-level biotech professional than an IT firm. Firms in the core engineering sectors usually look for PhD students or post-graduates at least, and many students want jobs just after their graduation. Seeking a job just after graduation is not a bad thing, but it has become a kind of vicious cycle.
Plus, suppose if a person has worked for a long time in other core branches and if they want to start a company, they will struggle to get venture capitalists and investors for the company as investors don’t wait for eight or ten years to see some substantial profits in these branches. So, that’s also a predicament. And government funding is available for research, but the funding to start a business in these branches is too low
Why are PhD graduates are not encouraged to work with industry?
It all goes to just one thing – academia-industry collaboration, which has been severely missing in our country for a long time. And, the industry sector is hardly keen on supporting research in academia, so they barely see its relevance. If any company doesn’t feel relevance of any research, it will save money and will train a Bachelor’s student to work at it.
To address this plight, there is a program known as the Prime Minister Fellowship Scheme, under the collaboration of Department of Science and Technology, Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce & Industry (FICCI). Under this scheme, the DST provides the basic scholarship and the industry partners are supposed to provide the matching funds. So, for example, a research student will get twice the amount of standard fellowship that students get in the other streams. The government also provides Rs. 2 lakhs per year as contingency.
All they expect the industry to provide Rs. 35,000 per month for a period of four years and give the research scholar a problem or important area to work on, related to the sector. Under this scheme, a student can even do the internship at the company as part of PhD and there can also be a mentor from the industry.
So, it is a beautiful program in which industry can work with the academia on the problem the industries find important. The DST also announced a thousand fellowships, but there were not enough industry takers and there were around 150 students at max in the period of five to six years. The program is running, but it hasn’t made the required impact.
Then, are the industries in India also a bit aversive or apathetic towards industry-academia collaboration?
Most of the industries are short-sighted. Most industries keep chasing the targets from one financial quarter to the second. Any collaboration between the industry and academia needs a long-term collaboration. It can’t happen in one quarter that I give some money and within a quarter or even a year, I start reaping profits.
I have always argued that the only way to have a solution in this situation to have some policy intervention from the government to mandate industries to spend a fragment of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) fund on bridging the gap with the academia. Right now, there are five or six fields in which CSR funds are allowed to be spent and academia is one of them, but it is hardly looked as an option for CSR.
So, if there was a mandate that a part of CSR fund would be utilized into the academia, that can surely become a game-changer. Also, by doing so, the industry sector will get to know to work and collaborate with the academia and they can share their expectations as well.
CII has recommended making industries participate and work with the academia and many in the industries have also felt that unless it is mandated, hardly any industry or sector will work with the academia to go beyond a financial quarter or even a year.
In one of your articles, you mentioned the term – Adaptability Quotients. Why do you think that it is necessary today for the youth?
One perceptible problem with our younger generation is that they are more comfortable with machines as compared to humans. If you observe any room, if there are six people in it, there is a big possibility that each one of them will be engaged with their own mobile phones and they won’t talk to one another. So, due to these things, they feel lots of inertia and emotional issues when they join any industry because every industry or organization is based on teamwork. How will one adapt with another in the real and human-to-human circumstances?
In a team, if everyone talks about their superiority, how would the team work?
So, the adaptability quotient is about adapting to different people. How good you are with your team is more important than how good you are in yourself. In India, many individuals are good in themselves when they work alone, but when you put them to work in a team, problems start arising. Also, I saw many students at IIT Delhi who come from different backgrounds but struggle to adapt to a new situation and environment and then their mental health starts deteriorating.
Therefore, I mentioned the adaptability quotient in the context of adapting to the human situation.
You have spoken out about private universities paying their teachers and faculty poorly. What’s the solution to this problem?
Only the government can help with this problem by implying some law. Erecting just big fancy building but not paying the remuneration the teachers and staff deserve will not help our country progress in terms of innovation. Faculties and students build an institution, not the building itself. Also, it’s not difficult that the governments can’t enforce colleges to pay a decent salary to their teachers.
Names of those private institutions can be counted on fingers that are paying the salary by the Seventh Pay Commission’s recommendation to their teachers and such colleges are not even more than 10. It’s also not good that all the regulatory and checking bodies are turning a blind eye to this very pressing issue.
And, suppose if the institute cries that their financials are not that strong that they can pay the salary as per the Seventh Pay Commission, then how are they getting the finances to run giant advertisements and campaigns.
So, in conclusion, a whole system of good teachers, infrastructure and industry-academia collaboration is indispensable for India’s growth.