Friday, April 21, 2006

Academia Industry Interaction - On the Search for Viable Models for Engineering Colleges in Kerala

We had this discussion on academia-industry interaction in Kerala going on in a yahoo group of which I am a member and which includes some of the best visionaries involved in academia/administration that Kerala has ever produced. Below is the mail that I posted to that group, and which includes a good (non-comprehensive) summary of industry-academia relationships in more famous T-schools in India


Let me introduce myself as a graduate (MTech) student in the Department of CS&E, IIT Madras. I have always felt that Computer Science departments have opened up newer ways of industry interaction, which largely benefits the academia rather than the industry. Let me use this mail to list down the ways of industry interaction practised (and those not practised) by CSE @ IITM (and possibly, CSE across IITs) so that people could comment on what kind of interaction could be worked out in academia in Kerala.

Here, many of the labs have projects which are either sponsored by ISRO or that are being done by the ISRO (and such governmental organisations). This, I feel, is the kind of industry interaction which has been practised for years in Indian academia. For instance, I happened to talk to a faculty member from Sri Chithra Institute (Tvpm - and he said that industry interaction at his institute if mostly by means of collaborative and funded projects. I may be wrong in generalising, but i feel this to be the conventional mode of industry interaction.

With the coming of private MNC giants into India, CS&E departments have been finding out ways of getting those people involved. Some of the kinds of interactions happening in CSE, IITM (many of them may exist in other departments as well) include

1-> External Registration Programmes - Industry people coming into the department for external registration programmes. These are similar to the part-time BTechs in Kerala, but for the fact that these external registration programmes in here are mainly for research. For instance, a person working with IBM Research can register for an External PhD (with two advisors - one from the institute and another from the organization), spend a couple of semesters at the institute and then do the rest of the research work in his organisation. This happens for PhD and MS programmes.

2-> Industry Visitors - Most of profs in here keep in good touch with their amunini working in various places. So when they come to India, they inevitably mail their old advisor regarding this, and the latter invites them to give a lecture. There have been lectures where people describe their research (redo the presentation of their most recently published research work) or rather just talk about their organization and it's larger vision. This happens very often.

3-> Collaborative Projects - Many profs in here work as consultants for various projects in the industry. For instance, one of our profs works with a team in Intel (and makes frequent visits to their place) whereas another is the main member of the crypto group @ Microsoft Research India. Microsoft Research India infact has a lot of such people, who infact have a designation at the Microsoft Research in addition to their faculty position at their institute. Collaborative projects involve the usual procedure of signing an MoU, but most of them are very exploratory in nature.

4-> Industry Visits - Something reverse to 2 also happens. Like, for instance, while I was dong my internship last year with IBM Research, there were a couple of profs from IIT Bombay who visited IBM Research to deliver lectures. Those things happened because those guys had their students working in IBM Research.

5-> Internships - It goes without saying that internships are an inevitable part of industry-academia relationships. Here we have a 3 month summer vacation, wherein students go in for internships. Academia in Kerala work more of less haphazardly and hence, the dates of the vacations are not very predictable. I badly wanted to do an internship while doing my BTech @ Model Engineering College, but that did not materialize because I couldnt give the industry people a guarantee that I would be available for 2 months at a stretch (the exam timetable was uncertain and is usually prepared by the university in the last minute)

6-> Courses Offered by Industry people - This has not yet materialized in IIT Madras. IITM plans to build something called a research park wherein plug-n-play space would be leased out to companies. As per the draft formulation, companies setting up office in the research park would have to offer courses (read subjects) @ IIT Madras for which they would be given credits and a minimum amount of credits have to be earned if the company wants to retain its office space in the research park. I know that there are guys in IBM Research (New Delhi) who offer courses in IIT Delhi. Further, I heard that Oracle had offered a full semester course in some college in Bangalore. Our academic setting, where there is little flexibility in the curriculum doesnt allow for such a thing to happen. I guess, we should introduce more electives and let colleges propose electives according to the faculty (industry or academia) available at that time

7-> Industry Grants and Awards for Faculty/Student Conference Travel - This is something that is motivated by the strong urge on the part of the industry to maintain a good relationship with the academia. As elsewhere, profs here get an international conference travel support only once in 3 years. But they actually travel much more frequently, partly due to project funding, and partly due to Industry grants. For instance, IBM provides a funding of 2 lakhs every year to the department for conference travel, which can be administered internally by the department. Further, Microsoft has supposedly sent a huge sum for the first time to the institute just like the IBM funding. Further, IBM, Google, and Microsoft provide travel awards to students getting papers accepted in prestegious international conferences.

8-> An Incubation Center - I personally know that IIT Delhi incubation center enabled the formation of very good start-ups in recent years with very good co-operation from the industry. I am not quite sure whether it is due to an incubation center, but have heard that a company called GDA Tech works within the campus of the Rajagiri Engineering College in Kakkanad, Ekm.

9->Marketing style Initiatives from the Industry - Although not very prevlent in IITs, some product companies offer free licenses and to their costly products (which is commonly opposed by the intellectuals by the argument that the aim is to brainwash the students to believe that their products are better). Further, apart from giving free licenses, they also give free training to use the product. Some companies organise workshops (which are actually training programmes) to popularise the technology or product that they use. For instance, we had the wireless communication giant, Qualcomm, organise a CDMA workshop in IIT Madras a couple of months back. Of the various kinds of industry-academia interactions, I feel that this is the only one, which can be argued against meaningfully. But yet, the students get to use industry-standard products and this may be of help to reduce the strength of the allegation that academia seldom works with real problems/systems

I dont know whether all these things listed above already exist in Kerala academia. I strongly feel that we should have
1-> A more or less stable academic calendar which enables students to plan their internships
2-> A flexible curriculum with a lot more elective courses
3-> A good alumini interaction (technical interaction) wherein any alumini would be able to come the department and deliver a lecture if he wants to convey something worthwhile. In my college, (Model Engineering College), industry lectures were so rare that when there was one, everybody rushed in as if to see something new happening. I guess industry lectures should become the order of the day. Profs who have friends in the industry should invite them frequently to make the students aware of the current trends in the industry.
4-> Opportunity to do research as a part of their BTech project. When I wanted to do some research as a part of my BTech project, people were looking at me as if i am doing some outrageous activity (and as if i am very eccentric) 5-> An incubation center per a cluster of colleges.

I would very much like people to comment on which among the above are viable in our academic setting as of now. If so, could **** (with the help of its highly influential people such as *** and ********) do something that could make a difference.

Best Regards



Brijesh said...

Hi Deepak,
I came across ur blog while searching some other stuff in google. U have got a very nice blog. Keep on writing.

In Kerala the government is focused more on quantity rather than quality when it comes to engineering colleges. When I was studying there was only 8 engg colelges to choose from. Now I think we have 80. The quality of education has and must change.

deepak said...

Yes. But, in this regard, something to be noted is that the private colleges have been pretty well these days. They are in the forefront of the "continuing education" programmes, as I learn

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