Building India



One aspect of the IT industry that is truly timeless is the divide that
continues to exist between industry and academia. An excellent round table
organized by Nasscom and ELCOT (Electronics Corporation of Tamil Nadu) recently
in Chennai served to bring many of these issues into very sharp focus. Dr
Balaguruswamy, Anna University’s vice-chancellor said that one of the main
concerns today is the outdated curriculum that is on offer at many of our
institutions.

Some other interesting insights too came from three very reputed
academicians. The Professor of Professors, Sadagopan of IIIT Bangalore,
cautioned the industry not to overlook the need for robust programming skills,
which is what has really put India on the global map. Prof Raghavan of IIT-Madras
offered pithy advice to industry and policy planners while Prof Natarajan,
chairman of AICTE, in his address to the HR summit the following day, spoke of
the various initiatives that the formal establishment was taking to improve the
quality of education. There were some outstanding contributions too from two
articulate members of the government, Vivek Harinarain, the excellent IT
Secretary of the Tamil Nadu government, who exhorted all the participants to
come up with a plan to bridge the industry-academia divide, and Pankaj Agrawala,
joint secretary, IT Ministry, whose commitment to the identification of every
possible hindrance to the progress of India’s IT juggernaut was apparent in
his willingness to stay through and contribute to multiple sessions at the meet.

Ganesh
Natarajan

Did somebody mention that less than 10% of the 200,000 plus engineers that graduate every year are actually employable by the industry

At the end of the day, there are still three major gaps that industry and
academia will have to address jointly if the IT engine is not to be starved of
its key fuel-trained manpower-and increase the abysmal employability levels.
First, industry will have to engage with the top hundred or so academic
institutions early on in the education process to provide the best of their
technology heads and human resource professionals an early opportunity to
interact with the brightest students and get them ready for the rigours of the
industry while they are still some time away from their graduation. Second,
widespread usage of e-learning technologies and methodologies will have to be
embraced by academic institutions to convert traditional brick universities to
virtual classrooms and convert the "sage on the stage" to a
"guide by the side"-another Balaguruswamy gem! And last but not the
least, the fine ability that the Natarajans and Raghavans and Sadagopans have
demonstrated over the decades in producing some of the country’s best talent
through institutions like the IITs and NCST should not be sacrificed at the
altar of providing skills rather than concepts.

The topic came up again in a completely different environment, at the top of
Mount Dana in the Californian Yosemite environment where I had the opportunity
to participate in a camping and hiking holiday along with a bunch of IIT Bombay
grads now working in the USA: five people who have gone on to pursue entirely
different careers after their engineering education in this great institution-Anoopa,
a rocket scientist with NASA, Raminder, chip designer, Ketan, e-Commerce
specialist, Dushyant, EAI consultant and Deepak Amin, serial entrepreneur and
Indian politician wannabe. Scratch the surface though and there is one thing
they are united about-their gratitude for the strong conceptual grounding that
they received at the IITs that today enables them to shine in their chosen
fields of endeavor. Which begs the question-are our best brains still being
lost to the Microsofts and Oracles in the USA while the industry in India
struggles to cope with second-rate institutions and ill-trained graduates? Not
really-there is a vast pool of talent out there and if all it takes to build
this industry are a hundred thousand capable job entrants every year, a
concerted collaborative effort by government, industry and academia can make
this happen through well-crafted strategies and robust implementation.

The author is deputy chairman and managing director of Zensar Technologies
and chairman of Nasscom’s SME Forum for Western India
Ganesh
Natarajan

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