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Monday, May 23, 2011

My visit to Wintec: An Institute focused on industry

Today was the first day of my 2 week visit to Waikato Institute of Technology, Hamilton, New Zealand. And I am impressed. The focus is solely on supporting industry and on doing things that would help improve the economy of the region. They do all the things that a normal university would do - teaching, research, extension activities, consultancy, etc., but everything has to have an industry focus.

The institute offers degree, diploma, and certificate programs in various fields. What program to offer has to be based strictly on the need of the industry - what kind of human resources industry needs in the short term, and what kind of skill up-gradation needed for people currently working in industry. The folks from industry have a say on the overall curriculum of a program, as well as the plan for an individual course. Most of the programs can be done in both full-time mode and a part-time mode, through evening/weekend instruction, to support working professionals trying to upgrade their knowledge and skills.

The institute's research programs are totally focused on problems faced by industry. They don't shy away from admitting that doing blue-sky research is not their focus, and take pride in the fact that their research helps industry in short term.

In every discussion, for every idea, there was this constant question - how is this relevant to local industry. The local chamber of industry office is on campus, which helps in constant interaction between industry and the institute. Also, the government's agency for promoting industry is also housed on campus. I have not seen such a strong bonding between the government, the academia and the industry.

The Head of the Institute is not called Vice Chancellor, but CEO. And the CEO could be either a person from academia or from industry.

To help solve small problems of their Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), they have a research fund of their own. So a company can walk into their research office, giving them a problem and if it is not a routine business problem, but really requires some research, and Wintec has academic staff in that area, then they will not even charge anything from the industry if the total cost of research is up to 5000 NZD.

It is required that the bachelor's project of all students be done while interacting with industry, and must either solve an industry problem, or develop something that industry can use immediately.

ALL Academic Staff are required to spend a minimum of one week working in industry every year. That is how they will know whether the research they are doing is relevant to industry.

All the work they do is disseminated to industry through magazines and other medium. All the conferences they organize will have industry participation.

Apparently, there are several such institutes of technology in New Zealand in different regions of the country. They are distinct from universities (though they are themselves degree granting institutions), in that universities are supposed to have a wider role - greater number of disciplines, greater focus on basic research, etc. They have grown out of polytechnics which used to prepare technicians for different industry segments, and now, instead of just imparting skills training, they do a lot more, including applied research.

My first reaction after going through the meetings of the day: I think we need to have a few such places in India as well.

There is lot more to write about Wintec, and I will do that in due course.


Saurabh Nanda said...

Isn't one week in a year too short to understand anything about a companies current & future problems? Otherwise a brilliant concept! What are polytechnics & ITI's in india supposed to do?

shaan said...

Sir, please tell what you think about the role of industrialists and big companies in the current research levels in India.

I recently heard in NEWS that , IBM , spends nearly $8 billion on reearch in foreign universities, which is more than the turnover, of the best company, that comes to IIT to recruit.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@Saurabh, one week is minimum. Two weeks is maximum. But if someone has a good proposal to work with industry, can get more leave. The idea is not to do something significant in terms of a project at the industry, but to get exposed to what is it that they are doing. And just think about it. If in one day visit of Wintec, I could get so much information (and I have written about only a small part of what I have learnt), then one can actually learn a lot in one week's time. And most conferences that we normally go to are also one week and less.

Polytechnics and ITIs are supposed to impart skills training at different levels. They are expected to work closely with industry, but they don't to the degree that it will be desirable.

Dheeraj Sanghi said...

@shaan, I don't think IBM spends 8 billion $ on university research. I think that is their total research budget, and the university research support would not be more than one percent of that. But I would like to be corrected.

The industry in India is not doing enough to support research. But you can't just blame them. You have to question whether the educational institutions have a sufficiently pro-industry-research attitude and focus on applied research to really be partners with industry.