Research In Indian Academia: An Opportunity For Industry

Neeraj Goel, Assistant Professor, Department of Computer Science & Engineering, IIT RoparIndian Institute of Technology, Ropar provides state-of-the-art technical education in a variety of fields and also facilitates transmission of knowledge in keeping with latest developments in pedagogy. It offers B.Tech, M.Tech, M.Sc, M.S(R) and Doctoral programmes.

Research drives the industry, takes an organization to the next level, and an essential ingredient to beat the competition. Research is required to design new products, to find new solutions, to find new processes, and to find new markets. However, research is costly and its outcome is unpredictable. Usually requirements are vague and change with time and the methods are unknown. Therefore, a typical research requires much iteration just to make a prototype and further iterations for final product. Many dimensions of research and its cost make it almost impossible for small organization to do it on their own. Therefore, research remains the forte of larger organizations. Most of the smaller organizations either follow what larger organizations are doing, or use the non-optimal solutions. It may be a viable option for them to outsource their research problems, if the cost is affordable.

On the other hand, academic institutes like IITs, NITs, and some of the private universities have transformed them from teaching institutes to research institutes. Most of the faculty in these institutes are trained researchers, with PhD from best universities in the world. These institutes have infrastructure and resources to perform world class research. However, sometime, in the absence of industry connection and collaboration, academic institutes end-up doing research that is not valuable or directly usable by industry. Essentially, industry require somebody whom they can outsource their problems with minimum expenditure and academia re-quire interesting and relevant problems to be solved. If they help each other, this could be a perfect solution.

Opportunities for Industry
The possibilities for industry to tap research potential of academia are immense. A few points are enumerated below.

Joint or Sponsored Projects
As the degree requirement, each engineering student is supposed to do a six months or a year long project. Usually this project is supervised by their academic supervisor. The problem statement of these projects could be driven by industry. Due to a variety of students, projects of different complexity can be done in institute. For example, an undergraduate student project could be implementation oriented engineering project, while research oriented projects can be taken by PhD students and graduate students. On top of this, academic institute can hire staff to work specifically on the problems/projects given by industry.
Involvement of industry can be at different levels. One possibility is to jointly supervise the project. This way there can be tight control of both parties over the schedule, implementation, deliverables and so on. Other possibility is, industry partner only gives the initial requirements and required deliverables. In this case, student is mainly supervised by institute faculty, while the industry checks the progress at regular intervals. In either case it is a win-win situation for both, industry as well as academic partner. Industry partner will be able to utilize theoretical under-standing of the academic partner, while academic partner will understand the dynamics and requirement of industry.

The collaboration with academia is a great opportunity for Indian industry. It is not only a low cost solution for their research problems, but also provides them additional benefits like publications, patents and trained man power

Consultancy is another opportunity for industry to engage faculty members. In consultancy, academic partner provides advice and consultation for the work being done at the industry. It may also involve implementing some components of the project at academic institute. Consultancy provides an excellent opportunity to industry to get an independent advice from the subject matter expert.

Cost of the joint/sponsored project or consultancy varies according to the length of the project, expertise, infra-structure required, human resources, and many more. Usually it is substantially lower than prevalent industry rates. Additionally, there are a lot of government schemes where government funding agencies match the industry funding.

There are many challenges to tap the potential of academic research. Few are mentioned from industry prospective.

The first challenge for the industry partner is to come-up with an in-dependent set of problems that can be solved by academic institute. Many a times the problem is a subtask of a big framework and depends on other components and confidential data that are available only at sponsoring company. For this challenge, there could be various solutions. With the advent of Inter-net, a person can work from anywhere in the world using the servers, data and infrastructure of the company. This way data and infrastructure of company remain safe and secure. Also, the problem statement could be downsized to the level where academic institute can solve it as a prototype, and industry can take it up for productization.

The second challenge is to find suitable partner in academia who has expertise and experience to solve the given problem. There can be no comprehensive directory that keeps updated profile of experts or faculty members. To solve this problem, industry can use their connections with placement cell of academic institute. This channel can be used to pass their problem statements to academic institute. Institute then can assign projects to interested students and faculty members.

The third challenge is different level of expectations. Initially starting with smaller projects could be right way to understand the expertise and deliverability. Over the time, when both parties understand each other, expectations can be agreed upon.

If motive is clear, benefits are seen at both sides; logistics issues like owning of intellectual property rights (IPR), publications versus patents, level of involvement, expectations, timeline of the project, and others can be agreed upon by mutual agreement & discussions.

Final Words
Overall the collaboration with academia is a great opportunity for Indian industry. It is not only a low cost solution for their research problems, but also provides them additional benefits like publications, patents and trained man power. With industry collaboration, academic institute will also be able to work on more impactful problems and gets some funds to further improve their infrastructure.