S Murlidharan

The right university-industry nexus

S. MURLIDHARAN | Updated on March 09, 2018

Students will get more relevant and focused education.

It is better to have an L&T rather than sundry politicians and film stars promote universities.



If industrial houses can be allowed to run banks — the Reserve Bank of India is currently working towards issuing licences – they could a fortiori be permitted to run colleges as well.

The All India Council for Technical Education should be complimented for deciding to allow companies with net worth of more than Rs 100 crore to set up universities. But this should be subject to suitable safeguards. A company should, thus, not be allowed to spread itself thin. Rather, it should be made to impart education only in areas that are its core strength.

Larsen & Toubro, for example, could offer relevant courses in civil, structural and electrical engineering and its offshoots. It would, after all, be a mere me-too, if it sets itself on imparting education on biotechnology as well.

In other words, just as companies concentrate on their niche areas in the market, they should impart education as well only on those very same niche areas. If they are willing, they may be allowed to have campuses across the country to cater to various regions, so that children are not wrenched away from their parents besides ensuring that the latter do not have to fork out huge amounts on hostel expenditure as far as possible.

It should also be kosher if two or more companies — otherwise competitors in the market place — pool their resources and jointly set up a university.

Filling voids

Where does this leave foreign universities? Well, they can pitch in where we are deficient. It is well-known that India is lagging behind the US in biotechnology by almost a decade. This void can, perhaps, be filled up by an Ivy League US University. Besides staunching the flow of huge foreign exchange in sending our children abroad, it would also have the effect of inviting foreign universities selectively.

Again, where does this leave commerce education? It is not as if industries need to proactively associate themselves with education only in technical fields.

There is no reason why insurance companies cannot set up colleges exclusively for grooming budding insurers. They may well join hands for this purpose, forgetting for the nonce their animus in the rough and tumble of the marketplace. So could banks. Going a step further, banks and insurance companies can also join hands to carry forward the idea of bancassurance by grooming youngsters in the twin areas of banking and insurance. There is a strong commercial logic to this entire approach. Companies such as Infosys, for example, have made no secret of their dissatisfaction with the quality of employees they get in campus recruitment.

As a result, they are forced to give extensive and intensive training spanning six months or so to those still wet behind the ears, so as to make them employable.

The above collective lament of the IT industry is at once a commentary on the current general quality of education in the country, as well as on the assumption that private educational institutions have worked wonders in recent times. On the contrary, barring a few, private universities leave a lot to be desired in terms of quality of education imparted. Their promoters, by and large, have been out to make a fast buck, even despite registering their institutes as trusts. That sundry film stars and politicians own the bulk of our private universities also tells their own story graphically.

Focused education

The point that companies with established track record in their respective sectors would impart far better education cannot be gainsaid. Besides being relevant and practical, the teachers as well as the taught would be alive to the needs of the promoter industry. In the process, even if they develop a tunnel vision, so be it.

It is, indeed, better to have specialists rather than a mass of unemployable youth who have gone through the drill of imbibing rambling and often irrelevant knowledge. The captive students, so to speak, can be more easily shaped to suit the requirements of the company. The company concerned too, keeping a more hawkish eye on students and their progress, can encourage those having the ability and inclination for research to work in the labs with a promise of a Ph.D degree and manna. It will spawn a totally new learning culture.

The US model of industry-university nexus is vastly different, with industries sponsoring research projects close to their hearts and coffers alone. Though there is certainly nothing wrong with it, what we in India need is a paradigm shift in the idea of the university-industry nexus. Students who have been fascinated by cars can straightaway hitch their stars with a college imparting automobile engineering, one that is promoted by a leading car manufacturer.

What we, in other words, need is involvement of industries at the grass-root level so that everyone involved is benefited Students would get a more focused and relevant education, while companies would have the satisfaction of employing employable graduates and not the ones who require to be groomed in-house at considerable expense and delay (without any guarantee of retention).

The country would benefit immensely with the quality of education going up exponentially — what with company executives doing their time in colleges as well, and with universities promoted by sundry politicians and film stars finding no takers.

(The author is a New Delhi-based chartered accountant)

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Published on May 10, 2013
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