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How to replicate the Stanford and Silicon Valley model in India: Prof. B. Ravindran

How to replicate the Stanford and Silicon Valley model in India: Prof. B. Ravindran

On the corporate relations section of IIT Delhi’s website, the institution lists nearly 90 active collaborations, with companies including Samsung, Boeing, AWS, Huawei, IBM and Shell. IIT Bombay has research collaborations with companies like Xilinx, Intel, TCS, and Texas Instruments.

Partnerships between engineering institutes and industry have played a substantial role in building strong tech ecosystems in many countries. Stanford’s role in making Silicon Valley is widely recognised. In India, it’s a more recent phenomenon – IIT Delhi formalised its corporate relations initiative just five years ago. More distressingly, such partnerships are restricted to the country’s top institutes – the IITs, IISERs, IISc, IIITs, NITs and a few others. The vast number of tier II and III institutes are outside the ambit of access to new-age research, technology transfer and partnerships that also uplift the faculty, students and curriculum there.

“Academic institutions and industry move in parallel paths in India,” says Surjya Pal, professor in mechanical engineering at IIT Kharagpur and chairperson of the centre of excellence in advanced manufacturing technology. Traditionally, he says, the institutes were focused on BTech and MTech students, and the focus on research partnerships came more recently.

His centre started in 2018 and partners with multiple Tata companies, BHEL, and Heavy Engineering Corp. Pal says a big challenge is that the faculty and companies often differ on the nature of research – while industry is focused on short-term benefits, academia is inclined towards deep research that sometimes takes years.Kishore Ramisetty, VP of data platforms group and GM, vertical solutions & services group at Intel India, says collaborations work when they are in areas of high impact research. Intel has tied up with IIIT Hyderabad for an applied AI research institute to focus on developing tools to reduce accidents on Indian roads. The technology, advanced driver assistance system (ADAS), is the same as that being used in driverless cars, and pilots show that the technology can reduce accidents by 30-60%. Partnerships, Ramisetty says, should also focus on teaching, joint development of courses, and intellectual property (IP). “In specific developments, they should co-own and co-monetise the IP,” he says.

Gargi Dasgupta, director of IBM Research India & CTO of IBM India, says collaborations will be successful if they are time bound and have measurable metrics for outcome. IBM and IIT Bombay came together in 2018 to work on natural language processing (NLP) to enable IBM’s Watson to understand Indian languages. The result is Watson can understand the Hindi language natively in Devanagari, including sentence structure, grammar, and other nuances. IBM also recently tied up with various institutions on quantum computing education. “When you want to advance science, then these are the best partnerships – the top minds in academia and smart minds in industry,” says

Balaraman Ravindran, head of Robert Bosch Centre for Data Science and AI at IIT Madras, says a big issue especially for lower-tier institutions is that the faculty have zero free time due to their academic commitments. “Institutes need to hire more faculty to get industry problems solved and thereby gain confidence,” says Ravindran, whose centre works with companies like Applied Materials and Ericsson.

Rudramuni B, former head of Dell’s R&D centre in Bengaluru, believes it’s also time institutions put some pressure on companies to collaborate, and not just come to them for recruitment. The institutes, he says, should assign campus hiring slots to companies based on the extent of research collaboration they have done with them, and not just the salary package. Industry, he says, should engage in internships, sponsor PhD scholars, or send their employees on part-time PhDs. He also suggests that professors should become technical advisors to firms. “You’ll find many companies abroad with a professor as an advisor, but you hardly see that in India, including in R&D centres. It will be mutually beneficial,” he says.

Siddhartha Panda, professor of chemical engineering at IIT Kanpur, recollects a PhD student in Germany telling him that he spent most of his research days at the Mercedes-Benz labs. “He would go to the university only on some days. It shows how strong collaborations can be.”

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