Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Industry-Academia Collaboration

I recently had an opportunity to attend Leadership Conclave organized by IIM Kashipur where we all gathered to debate the steps needed to improve Industry-Academia collaboration. It was the confluence of thoughts from various industry leaders that has motivated me to present the following views on Industry-Academia collaboration.

So what has really sparked this debate on Industry-Academia collaboration? The answer is unpreparedness of students to take on industry jobs. And why this discussion now ? Our expectations have changed due to pressure on the bottom-line and the rate of Growth. Some of the reasons behind the stated disconnect are:

1)      Lack of multi-dimensional learning – Today’s jobs have become far more complex. Ram Charan in his second edition of Leadership pipeline highlighted the fact that that there are lot more dimensions that have been added to our jobs today – Managing Cultural nuances because of multi-national interactions, managing different operating paradigms, lack of relationship network that is expected today & unreal growth expectations. Most institutes are still relying on traditional models of education or have failed to keep pace with changing needs. This is very evident in the services industry where the job at any level expects one to deal with various cultures both internally & externally, requires you to leverage your network and switch between various operating models as the economic & financial situation demands.

2)      Outdated Learning – In technology savvy industries, one of the biggest challenge is that Academia hasn’t kept up with the pace of research in that industry. Take telecom or even electrical as an example and one will find that the syllabus is lacking newer inventions which makes the prospective new employee handicap when they enter the industry.

What are really the solutions ? Quite a few and it starts with:

a)      Creation of Frameworks for Industry-Academia collaboration - This is the beginning. An institute must identify the industry it intends to service clearly establishing a collaboration framework with select companies in the identified industry. Exhaustive framework must be created that lays down modus operandi for joint research, participation in student-faculty selection programs, guest lectures, case study preparation and internship. Placement preference must therefore be given on the quality of participation from a company rather than on the compensation being offered by them at the time of campus placement. This framework must also address IP protection as this issue is likely to surface as advanced level of collaboration gets initiated.

b)      Course Enhancement – Of course the easiest way to fix outdated leaning is to regularly enhance course work to keep it in line with the changing industry. However it is always not possible so course enhancement can be done by associating relevant case studies to reflect complex problems being solved in the industry.

c)       Practitioners be preachers and vice versa – Important courses must have an aligned Industry practitioner as co-faculty. This would help in bridging the gap between theory & practice as the industry co-faculty can help make the course contents relevant by citing industry relevance & usage, sometimes using case studies and at times using tours and workshops. Similarly, institute’s faculty can hugely benefit by taking a deputation in related companies to help them solve or research their current issues. This would also help in multi-dimensional learning as more interactions with the industry will help students pick up the secondary skills they need.

d)      Diversity – Both in the class and outside. To achieve this, current methods of selection to various courses must facilitate diversity of students to enroll e.g. MBAs must allow access to vocational & arts students of repute to enroll. This will help broaden the perspectives. Similarly exchange programs must allow students from different cultures & streams to interact.

e)      Build Industry Perspective at the start – It is often noticed that new entrants to the industry often have very limited exposure to the job content. It can be really useful to have the students get an overview of various careers at the onset. This coupled with higher number of electives can help students focus on areas of specialization of their own interest rather than spending time on topics of little or no interest. A 30% - 70% is a good rule between core & electives.

Improving Industry-Academia collaboration does require constant vigil and the conclave organized recently by IIM Kashipur is a step in the right direction. We, as industry, have a responsibility to help Academia improve the quality of education. And it starts by acknowledging the difference between the need to educate from the need to train.

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