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Industry-Academia R&D Partnerships: Strengthening Indian Innovation Ecosystem

Innovation is the fuel for ameliorating the socio-economic competitiveness of developing nations like India. Indian innovation ecosystem relies heavily upon the academic sector (comprising more than 1000 Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) to keep itself propelling. As per the global innovation matrix, India is amongst the top 10 nations considering research publications, which effectively demonstrates the R&D abilities of our HEIs and research institutes. However, the Indian stance over the conversion of research into market deliverables is quite dismal. What can be the reasons for such a low conversion rate of research into technology? In the quest to answer this question, let us first delve into understanding the main stakeholders of our innovation ecosystem. Innovation is performed and catalysed primarily by three main pillars, i.e. government, academia and industrial sector of India. Lack of effective synergy between these stakeholders is a roadblock in delivering research to market. A fruitful way to address and resolve this issue is by creating a strong Industry-Academia (I-A) R&D ecosystem in the country. Industry is forever scouting innovative ideas that address their R&D problems and on the other hand, academia is in pursuit of a hand-holding to translate and scale-up it’s lab research. The successful translation of research from academia to industry requires industry participation in the research, right from the beginning of the project till the development of product/technology. Academia and industry have to shed away the existing approach of working in-silos and look for synergistic routes that will also help to improve Indian global innovation ranking, especially in ‘Innovation linkages[1] (global ranking: 44)’ and ‘University-Industry Collaboration[2] (global ranking: 23)’ parameters.

As reported by the All India Survey of Higher Education 2018-19  with over 993 universities and nearly 40,000 colleges, India has become one of the largest networks of educational institutes in the world. However, at present only a handful of HEIs mainly Institutes of National Importance (INIs) such as Indian Institute of Technology (IITs), Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISERs), etc. and selected universities have successfully implemented I-A linkages for collaborative R&D. As observed in the first-generation IITs (IIT-Kharagpur, IIT-Madras, IIT-Bombay, IIT-Kanpur and IIT-Delhi) and selected autonomous institutes [Institute of Chemical Technology (ICT)-Mumbai; Indian Institute of Science (IISc) -Bangalore, etc.] the major I-A handlers encompass the creation of:

  1. Research and Consultancy Cell
  2. Technology Transfer/Commercialization/Licensing Cell, with Legal/IP Cell
  3. Corporate Laboratories
  4. Centres of Excellence (as per industrial needs)
  5. I-A Clubs
  6. Industry involvement in academic activities such as curriculum design and review, teaching and training, research advisory, etc.
  7. Industrial Chairs and Industrial Fellowships
  8. Entrepreneurship Cells/Clubs, Research Parks and Technology Business Incubators (TBIs).

These institutes have performed exceptionally well in the domains of Science, Technology and Innovation which  can be attributed to  strong I-A linkages. Each of these institutes has the above mentioned I-A enablers[3].

IIT-Madras thrives and excels through strong industry linkages, based on a unique  ‘Credit System’ for sustaining these engagements. The model works through credits that are earned by the industry through academic interactions with the institute (e.g. entrepreneurial activities, collaborative partnerships, sponsoring Ph.D./research programmes/training, internships and recruitments, teaching and advisory, etc). These can be exchanged for the services and association with the research park.

On the other hand, IISc-Bangalore has instituted Society of Innovation and Development (SID) that acts as the Institute’s scientific repository and carries out engagements with industry in three arms: a) Core Innovation and Research with Enterprise (CORE) arm that engages with large corporates; b) TIME2 arm that engages with medium-sized companies, and c) STEM arm that works for start-ups. These three arms actively work  towards matching industrial requirements with the scientific knowledge repository of the institute and handle all the negotiations for pursuing collaborative work.

IIT-Delhi has established an industry interface through Foundation for Innovation and Technology Transfer (FITT) which carries out industrial consultancies, industrial training, industry-sponsored research projects and start-ups, through which industry and the institute have derived mutual benefits.

ICT-Mumbai follows a unique model of industry linkages where more than 80% of the faculty is involved with industry either in the form of industry-sponsored research projects or industrial consultancy. The institute also offers special Ph.D. and other research programmes for industrial staff. These institutes can act as  role models for research-based/innovation-oriented academic institutes in India to adopt these best practices or take lessons from them for creating an effective I-A synergy.

Additionally, the government through its I-A support programmes, implemented by various funding agencies has played a catalytic role in bringing industry and academia together. Some of the key programmes are listed herein- PM’s Fellowship for Doctoral Research under Science & Engineering Research Board (SERB); Indian Innovation Growth Programme (IIGP), Department of Science and Technology (DST); Patent Acquisition and Collaborative Research and Technology Development (PACE) and Promoting Innovations in Individuals, Start-ups and MSMEs (PRISM) of Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR); Small Business Innovation Research Initiative (SBIRI), Biotechnology Industry Partnership Programme (BIPP); National Biopharma Mission and Promoting Academic Research Conversion to Enterprise (PACE) of Biotechnology Industry Research Assistance Council (BIRAC); University-Industry Inter Linkage (UIL) of the University Grants Commission (UGC) and a few more. Government has also taken constant measures of incentivizing the industry to take up collaborative modes of research with academic and research institutes in India. These incentives include a) financial assistance under I-A linkage projects, and b) fiscal incentives in the form of tax benefits [150-200% tax super deduction under Section 35 2(AA) of the Income Tax Act 1961] of what over R&D investments made by Industry as research subsidy or sponsored/consultancy research work with research institutes/IITs/universities/colleges. Despite all the efforts, I-A linkages are still in infancy. There are many reasons why the I-A synergy is not being much worked in most of the institutes. These could be lack of trust, commitment, time-oriented delivery, financial constraints, inadequate Technology Readiness Levels (TRLs; industry readiness), quality audits and reviews, trained manpower, pilot studies, academic freedom and incentives for faculty and industry as highlighted in various case studies carried out by Department of Science and Technology established Centre for Policy Research at Panjab University, Chandigarh.

All these challenges need to be addressed to invigorate the innovation ecosystem in which both academia and industry are the one of the main stakeholders. In fact, India’s stagnant ‘Gross Expenditure on Research and Development (GERD)’ i.e. 0.7% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)’ is quite dismal in comparison to the 2% GDP contribution as GERD in innovation based economies.  GERD can be pushed to more than 1% through increased industrial participation in R&D, which can be achieved through I-A synergy. DST-Centre for Policy Research4 at Panjab University, Chandigarh has drawn evidence-based recommendations for strengthening the I-A R&D ecosystem in the country. Some of the key recommendations are as follows:

  • Mandatory participation of industry representatives in the advisory committee, curriculum design and research review committee of academic institutes to give insights on industry expectations from the academic sector. Moreover, the industry should be involved in teaching and research activities being carried out at the university. For this purpose, an endowment of I-A chairs can be established.
  • Mobility of faculty and students to industry and vice-versa should be promoted in a hassle-free manner. The provision of sabbatical leave should be strengthened along with new I-A fellowship programmes that engage young researchers working on industrial problems.
  • Creation of city academic clusters, a colloquium of universities, colleges and research institutes in a particular region/city, that can act as a single window platform for displaying research/technologies/patents, facilities, instruments and scientific expertise available with academia, to be co-shared with the industry. Additionally, each university should come up with an industry-friendly web portal showcasing the list of technologies and scientific expertise of each department. Most befitting example of such a cluster is the Chandigarh Region Innovation and Knowledge Cluster (CRIKC), comprising nearly 30 academic and research institutes in and around Chandigarh city that are connected with industry via Confederation of Indian Industry (Northern Region). CRIKC has also come up with a CRIKC I-A web-portal that acts as a common platform for all the CRIKC member institutes to display their R&D facilities (patents, technologies available, scientific expertise, instruments and facilities, etc.) in an industry friendly manner.
  • Academic institutes can also connect with industrial associations, State S&T councils and District Industries Centres (DICs).
  • Each university should demarcate ‘I-A Fund’ under which I-A linkages via outreach activities such as I-A clubs, I-A workshops, I-A matchmakings, etc. shall be performed.
  • Establishment of Value Creation Centres that will engage with industries for specific projects via interconnecting and marketing of the research carried out in academic institutes and work on how to bring value to it. They can act as the marketing arm of the institute, with the core responsibility of reaching out to industries. These Centres can even guide and undertake support measures to enhance the TRLs for research projects in alignment with the industry requirements.
  • Creation of ‘Theme based Centres of Excellence (CoEs)’ in academic institutes in association with industries catering to a specific domain or interested area of research of industry. These CoEs will have sophisticated instrumentation facilities and trained manpower that are made available to industry.
  • Incentivizing universities and its faculty for delivering meaningful I-A interactions by the means of collaborative research work of industrial consultancy. Special recognitions, rewards and credit for such efforts in promotion, can be introduced to encourage faculty to be open for interactions with industry.
  • Widespread awareness of the government’s decision on including Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) for R&D amongst industries can further lead to means of collaborative research activities between industry and academia.
  • I-A schemes for financial and mentoring support should be introduced on lines of BIRAC, GoI to support research projects through all stages of innovation right from ideation to commercialization. Additionally, schemes for risk sharing grants should also be introduced to take the fear of failure away from industries in performing research.
  • Scheme of ‘Innovation Vouchers’ as practised in many countries (e.g. Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland and United Kingdom) and in a few states of India can be widely explored to kick start I-A linkages. Such innovation vouchers worth 5-10 lakhs can be utilized by industries (especially MSMEs) to engage with academicians to perform collaborative research and find solutions for their research/technical problems. These innovation vouchers can be categorized as per the level of academic support to be availed as per different stages of innovation i.e. from idea generation to proof of concept to industry-ready prototype development.

In order to address the current and future STI challenges of India, the development and deployment of sustainable and indigenous technologies is a must. Industry and academia both in a synergistic relationship can cater to the creation of innovative technologies for socio-economic benefit. Therefore, there is a need to build and contextualise models for I-A linkages in India, based on empirical evidence from successfully working I-A models, nationally and internationally. With the incorporation of such models in the national STI policy framework, the current status, challenges and solutions to make I-A synergy work at each academic institute can be a way forward. With appropriate policies, industry and academia will open doors to each other, catering to strong partnerships for technological advancement of the country.

[1] Innovation Linkages is one of the parameters considered in calculating Global Innovation Index for the countries. This parameter considers qualitative and quantitative data on Industry-Academia (or business/University) collaboration for R&D, prevalence of innovation clusters, deals related to joint venture and strategic alliances, and financial sources from abroad contributing to Gross Expenditure to R&D (GERD).

[2] University-Industry Research Collaboration is a sub pillar under the main pillar ;’Innovation Linkages’ for calculating Global Innovation Index on the ability and extent to which university and business collaborates in the country for research purposes.

[3] Based on the research carried out at DST-CPR@PU,Chd. Compiled in form of Book entitled ‘Industry-Academia R&D Ecosystem of India: an evidence based study’ https://cpr.puchd.ac.in/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/Industry-Academia-RD-Ecosystem-in-India.pdf

About the author


Dr Radhika Trikha is presently part of STIP 2020 Secretariat, working in the capacity of Senior Policy Fellow hosted at DST-CPR@PU, Chd. She has gained nearly 5 years of experience in science policy research. Her policy-research domain is ‘Incentivization of Private Sector R&D, and Public-Private Partnership Models for R&D, Nationally and Internationally’. Dr Radhika earned her PhD degree from Department of Microbial Biotechnology (DMBT), PU, Chd. under INSPIRE Fellowship Scheme of DST, GoI. She is also the recipient of ‘University Gold Medal’, both during her Graduation (Biotechnology) at Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar, as well as and Post-graduation (Microbial Biotechnology) at PU, Chd. She is credited with 6 research publications in national and international journals, 2 book authorship and 2 book chapters. She has been actively involved in organizing various Industry-Academia and IPR meets/symposia and delivered talks on the same theme in various forums.

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