The focus of the government and industry seems to be shifting towards promoting research-based activities in the engineering colleges. The State government, with the help of the ICT Academy, will soon start assisting colleges in setting up incubation centres and promoting research-based activities.
“Many colleges have a full-fledged placement cell, but very few have research or incubation centres, because the focus is entirely on employment,” said B. Anbuthambi, associate vice president, ICT Academy, a consortium of government of India, government of Tamil Nadu and CII. The academy will assist colleges to set up their incubation centres and companies, including, Dell, Oracle and Autodesk, among others will also aid them.
The Academy, in the next few months plans to set up at least 50 incubation centres across the State. The focus will be on private and government colleges which do not have any research-based activity centre.
Presently, the academy is in the process of collecting inputs from the industry on emerging technologies to assist students to work on them.
Mentors from the industry will aid students to build their own projects in manufacturing, management and information-technology related areas. This will later include other areas of design and the electrical stream too.
The academy has tied up with Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India that will help colleges identify students interested in specific fields. “For instance, Oracle has many projects on database. So students interested in exploring the best ways of storing data can not only get guidance from Oracle experts, but also get to work with them,” said Mr. Anbuthambi.
However, much remains to be done as the emphasis continues to be on jobs in most engineering colleges. “This year, at least 67 per cent of the students are joined who joined first year are from rural areas. We are trying to instill interest in research in them. But, we are also trying to get faculty members get into industry projects so that their knowledge gets refined,” said P. Mannar Jawahar, Vice-Chancellor, Anna University. The State government introduced the Anna Centenary Fellowship Scheme a few moths ago that funds the research activities of 150 students, with a stipend of Rs.12,000 a month and an additional assistance of Rs. 25,000 every year for three years.
However, money alone might not be the solution. “No matter how much ever you increase the stipend, it does not get as lucrative as certain IT jobs, which is why students are not interested,” said R. Anandan, professor, Anna University.
“The culture of teaching and learning needs to include questioning, analysing and understanding to get the students oriented to research, he says. “Even if it is a small semester project, let the student be granted significant marks if he did it on his own, and zero if he got it all ready-made,” he suggested.
Among the few instances of successful incubation, is the much cited case of IIT-M Research Park, which started a year ago. Forty-six companies that range from microfinance to analytics and shipbuilding to biomedical firms and telecom companies are part of this initiative. “Over 100 students interned there as part their summer training this year,” said Sandhya Sekhar, CEO, IIT-M Research Park.
“Research often is attributed only to grey hair, but that is changing now. We need to give the youngsters challenges relevant to them, and they will for certain celebrate research.”