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Opinions: Bridge the Real Gap between Academics and Industry

With hiring at Copperpod IP's in full swing for our India office, I've come across the phrase "bridge the gap between academia and industry" on almost a daily basis. The gap no doubt has plagued the Indian education system for decades - but practically speaking, it’s a gap that will perhaps never be bridged.

Academic research is this huge elephant that needs to be fed and washed for years, while industry runs like horses on the battlefield. An elephant will definitely change the course of a battle but by the time it will reach the battlefront, the battle has usually moved ahead. In real world terms (not that elephants and horses aren’t real), the industry innovates on a breaking neck speed, while academia follows. In an ideal technocracy, it would be the other way round. Of course, the biggest blame falls on lack of monetary resources as well as long-term brain drain on the Indian economy.

Yet, the biggest problem with bridging this “gap” is even more fundamental. Almost every single time I have heard this phrase, it was spoken by a university professor, training & placement officer, or a bureaucrat. The students themselves either don’t know enough to realize there is a gap or simply don’t feel there is a gap to begin with. If you think about it, students today have exponentially more exposure to technology and information than 10 years ago. Their sources are not limited to books from 20 years ago - but are real-time. The only thing they do lack is the proprietary knowledge that can only be provided through corporate training programs.

The real gap, therefore, is not that students are not taught tools and processes actually in use by the industry - because the tools and processes in industry simply change too quickly for an under-funded educational regime. The real gap unfortunately is at the instructor-level (and at the training and placement offices) at the universities. If you look at the faculty in our engineering institutes, you’d be hard pressed to find any industry veteran among the faculty. Virtually everyone who teaches in our institutes has been an instructor for all their lives - and thus for the most part keep teaching what they learnt as students.

Working in the industry isn’t just about knowledge, of course. Simple things like responding or acting upon an email (tasks that happen at the speed of need in technology companies) are an after-thought in academia (and more painfully in training and placement offices). Professionalism has a much more relaxed (time-wise) definition in academia - and while most instructors genuinely want their students to succeed, the good intentions are bogged down by bureaucracy, laziness and incompetence of others.

So instead of focusing the “bridging the gap” solutions (and backlash) on students, perhaps the real outreach must focus on the academic staff and the hiring practices at the universities?

The opinions expressed in this article are personal views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Copperpod IP, Carthaginian Ventures or any other related entity.

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