ARAI Academy’s global conference sees experts push for industry-academia partnership

by Mayank Dhingra 27 May 2021

Growing level of collaboration between India Auto Inc and academia can only power a new dynamic for industry. (Image: Franchise India)

On May 24 and 25, the Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) Academy organised a two-day virtual conference on ‘Automotive Research & Development’ wherein Autocar Professional’s executive editor, Sumantra Barooah, moderated a panel discussion.

The topic of the discussion – 'Enhancing Employability in Automotive R&D' – saw leading industry experts and veterans, including PK Banerjee, executive director, SIAM; Dr V Kovaichelvan, director, TVS Institute for Quality and Leadership; FR Singhvi, joint managing director, Sansera Engineering and governing council member, ASDC; IV Rao, visiting senior fellow, TERI and executive advisor and former R&D head, Maruti Suzuki India, and Dr James Sathya Kumar, professor, Faculty of Engineering, Christ University, be part of the panel.

The moderator started off by seeking comments from the panellists about how the alliance between academia and industry could go a long way in grooming students to becoming future professionals.

Dr Kumar from Christ University begun the conversation by saying, “We are beginning to hear very positive initiatives from the industry to bridge this gap and most institutions are also coming forward. This gap being lamented for many decades can be bridged with an outcome-based approach and students can have employability skills right out of college. Industrial interactions, MoU and tie-ups are playing a facilitating role in this regard.”

“Secondly, when we look at some skills, particularly in automobile design - modelling, meshing, CAD-CAM, analyses and use of software tools, are things expected from students coming out of a bachelor’s in engineering in mechanical stream. This is where the interaction between the industry and academia is most crucial and automotive industry is realising this necessity. The initiatives have to start right from the crucibles – colleges,” he added.

He further cited examples of Christ University’s various initiatives in this regard wherein the institute has inked several MoUs, for instance, with Bosch and MBRDI (Mercedes-Benz Research and Development India), along with a truck tear-down facility that it has at its campus in Bangalore. “These initiatives can go a long way in strengthening the industry-academia relationship,” he mentioned.

IV Rao reminisced his joyous days of being a student at IIT Kanpur from where he had undertaken his Master’s programme in engineering. Rao said that when he went back to colleges as an MSIL executive to recruit freshers, he made it a point to speak to the HODs to understand the various disciplines being taught in mechanical engineering. “However, it was disappointing to see that the curriculum continues to be dated. Majority of the colleges even today have not updated their curriculum,” he complained.

“Furthermore, many small colleges generally see the graduating students themselves taking up teaching roles within the same institute,” Rao pointed out.

“If we look in the present scenario, students have changed a lot in terms of how they are working on different software solutions as well as their humongous exposure to the Internet,but unfortunately, the teaching methodology is not up-to-date. So, all these three areas need a thorough overhaul,” Rao said.

He further championed the need for a “compulsory one-semester industry internship”, in order to make students gain a lot of perspective about how the industry functions. “This should be backed up by the college, deciding what the student is expected to do inside the industry. This will go a long way in improving the skill level of engineering students,” Rao added.

Adding his views to this, Dr Kovaichelvan of the TVS Institute mentioned that 80 percent of human resource development happens in college, and only the remaining 20 percent when they join the workforce. “And, that 80 percent is being mishandled.”

“As an OEM, we decided that it was important to partner with Polytechnics and engineering colleges. We put prospective students through a two-day assessment session for passion and then admit them into various Polytechnics that we have tie-ups with,” he illustrated about TVS’ initiatives in improving employability of students.

Dr Kovaichelvan added that every year, these students come to TVS to carry out internships for up to two semesters. “We have observed that their performance becomes much improved in the company compared to their when they are with their peers, studying.”

“Institutions must fulfil the role of developing technical, professional and life skills, including social consciousness. More institutions should come forward to adapt this kind of a model, and TVS would be happy to share the framework,” he remarked.

According to PK Banerjee, “This is the dilemma for all of us. If we see the educational institutions, students and industry, the need for improving employment in auto R&D at a time when the work environment demands inter-disciplinary expertise, is very crucial.”

“When we look at new institutions, they have placed the student at the centre and they are giving optional courses and electives, depending upon the interest of the students.Now, their employability in auto R&D needs to be taken into account and the industry needs to create these roles so that students can absorb knowledge in new areas such as AI and ML,”he said.

Banerjee also touched upon a big issue that’s plaguing the system, wherein students are unable to apply and opt for internships. “Most institutes are struggling to get students into internships, and that is where there needs to be some sort of policy intervention. During Covid, most of the auto industry has decided against internships. Therefore, some policy intervention is absolutely crucial.”

Barooah quizzed the panel on how can the collaboration between industry and academia be improved in terms of scale and size.

According to Rao, “What is required is a continuous interaction between the industry and academia, and working on a system where slightly long-term requirements such as research projects are given to the institutes. Having said that, the undergraduate and post-graduate projects could be sponsored by the industry, which would also define that the problem in question is relevant for the industry.”

Adding his thoughts, Singhvi said, “ASDC has created a level-based curriculum from level 1 to 5 for technicians in the automotive industry.We have also partnered with IIT Palakkad and in the second meeting itself, we decided that the agenda would be on lean manufacturing and seven quality steps. We sought knowledge exchange between ASDC technicians and IIT lecturers.”

He further said that “Collegesare not bothered about connecting the marketability of students, and that requires a regulatory change as well as a change in the mindset. 92 percent of graduating students are unable to get jobs because they do not hold the right skills.Focus needs to be on employability of engineers by trying to develop what is required by the industry.”

Dr Kumar said that synergies can happen only if there’s close and meaningful interaction between academia and industry. “We have to first recognise the problems and then look for solutions. Having said that, institutions are undermined for their capabilities as a lot of interdisciplinary work can happen with the presence of both students and professors in these colleges. Increased interactions will allow the industry to assess what levels of complexity can the academia conduct in terms of research. Tremendous amount of talent is present in institutions, and synergies can happen with increased interactions.”

PK Banerjee gave the last remark and added that the industry (automotive) is mindful of the disruption that is happening, and we have to address the India-specific needs of the population. Everyone has recognised that industry-academia interactions are the need of the hour so that we are able to provide skills that are more relevant to the Indian market. “The time is right that this issue of employability in auto R&D is addressed,” he concluded.



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