By Manoj Kumar Chhikara, Director - R&D, Hilleman Laboratories

Bridging Gaps between Academia and Industry in India

  • Research constitutes the base for most of the industrial products used in our life. While academia contributes towards basic research; that research in itself does not translate into a product. This is where Industry plays a key role. Industry adapts the basic ideas and applied research to formulate, develop and market a product for use in society. Hence, the coordination between research performed at academic research institutions and its application in Industry becomes a primary requirement. 

    Whenever I tend to study the current academic research in general, interact with PhD aspirants, PhD students and University guides of the PhD scholars, and examine the changes over last couple of decades, I find a paradigm shift. Most of the changes are a direct result of globalization, rapid economic growth in India and efforts from Public/Private National and International organizations supporting the positive change through various incentives and schemes. Several metrics highlight this change. Increasing number of research publications in high impact peer-reviewed journals, patent applications and their grant by local and International patent offices have led to indigenous development and commercialization of products based on academic research.

    Despite this significant change, gaps still remain to effectively leverage the academic research to its best potential and make it an even more productive endeavor. In this article, 3 key areas are presented where more efforts are needed to fill the lingering gaps.

    Optimizing the Research focus: As the target of applied research should be to make it useful to society to benefit from such research (other than research oriented towards development of a theory/concept through basic research), Universities, especially those offering courses in Master's and Doctorate programs, should focus on the long-term objective of the research conducted within a particular department or research group. Focus of the research should not be just getting a PhD thesis submitted, getting a few papers published or awarding degrees and diplomas. Such an approach can prove counter-productive because future researchers or academicians may never become aware of basic industry requirements, for example the need for research and development of a useful product along with focus on timelines to deliver the same.

    Thus, it is necessary to have an optimized research focus in Universities starting at Master's degree courses itself, or even better at Bachelor's degree courses, to prepare a pool of industry-ready candidates in terms of their learning and thought-processes. As students are a high mobility population, the research guide/Principal Investigator should have a more focused and long-term plan to bring the research project (once initiated) to a useful closure and at the same time ensure that his/her students pass the baton to their successors to reach to the long-term objectives of the research started under one group/Principal Investigator. 

    Increasing exposure to Industry: Student orientation towards Industry-focused research is difficult unless there is a good exposure of the overall academic team including students, research guides and administrating staff to the industry environment. This requires frequent industry visits, short-term industry training on focused activities, and importantly a continuous dialogue between Academic Research Institutes/Universities and the Industry. In fact, for a particular field, such an interaction could be made as part of the key responsibility areas for academic staff and part of the mandatory requirements in students' curriculum. Regular meetings with Industry will bring an enhancement of the latest ideas and key developments in the field as well as building a mutual rapport between the organizations. 

    Academia-Industry Partnerships: Last but not the least, the most important part of bridging the gap is the passion to have successful Academia-Industry collaborations including public-private research partnerships, collaborative grant applications, and student trainings. Based on my personal experience, the major challenge in the academia-industry partnerships happens to be lack of a shared vision of the bigger goal, that is bringing a product useful to society from the overall research efforts of everyone involved. This is possible when Industry acknowledges that the lion's share of basic research happens at the University/Academic research labs. Simultaneously, it is important that, Academia acknowledges that it takes a long route to convert proof-of-principle research into a product, and it also involves a significant risk undertaken by Industry.Both parties must appreciate the strengths of the other partner and leverage the same with mutual agreements to bring a fruitful outcome of the collaboration. 

    A good Academia-Industry collaboration could involve training students in the industry with hands-on experience through a research project, preferably with research fellowships sponsored by Industry. This process creates a pool of trained resources that become available to the same or other relevant industries. This comes with a challenge to maintain difficult boundaries such as free pursuit of knowledge (important to Academia) versus strict confidential information (important to Industry) which could be successfully managed with appropriately planned projects and proper systems held in place within the organizations. Finally, the target of any successful partnership should be to build in systems to retain best talent in the country by creating enough job opportunities for the country.

    Dr. Manoj Kumar Chhikara

    Dr. Manoj Kumar Chhikara (MVSc, PhD, ADBA), Director - Research and Development at MSD Wellcome Trust Hilleman Laboratories Pvt. Ltd., New Delhi, has a keen interest in building healthy Industry-Academia partnerships towards preparing an indigenous pool of talent and bringing best outcome of the partnerships