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At last the IT Industry Woke Up
Imran Shahnawaz
Saturday, April 1, 2006
Mittun Madhavan rues the fact that at a time when the IT industry is hiring programmers at a frantic pace, he had to wait for six months to get a job.

Madhavan, a Computer Science graduate from the Government Engineering College in Trivandrum, Kerala, doesn’t blame his fate, but curses the education system that has not fostered what it had to long ago. A partnership with the industry that will help many like him to stay in tune with the latest technology.

He feels the requirement of the industry has changed over the past few years. “Today if you just depend on the college syllabus, you will reach nowhere. In this context, the alliance between The industry and academia will definitely give an early exposure about the field to an engineer,” he adds. However that was not the case few years back when the bubble of IT in India was on its expansion mode.

Bullish on the low cost market and the large number of knowledge workers many multinational companies have established their base in India. At that time it was a smooth ride for these multinationals. However the companies slipped into warm water when they moved onto the higher value chain in the Indian IT market.

Though numerically technical education is healthy in India, quality-wise it is very poor across-the-board. Indian engineers lack in quality and the level of training. Though India produces about 250,000 engineering graduates every year, multinationals have found only 25 percent employable, a Nasscom and McKinsey report said. As India has come up on the roadmap of multinationals they realized the need of solution architects, specialists with domain skills, designers and analysts, instead of programmers. However the difference in the goal of the industry and academia has created a skills gap.

To bridge that gap, multinational companies have aggressively started making inroads into the Indian academia. Companies like IBM, Cisco, Infosys, Intel, Sun Microsystems, HP, Satyam Computers and Microsoft are making concerted efforts to enhance industry-based learning. Tie-ups with Indian varsities and other academic institutions have become commonplace. Recently a company that adopted this culture was TIBCO Software with the International Institute of Information Technology, Pune. “Establishing partnership with academia will help to infuse software integration and real-time business into education to ensure that, skill sets match market demand to create innovative solutions for years to come,” says Ram Menon, Senior Vice-President, Worldwide Marketing, TIBCO Software.

For the students, companies and institutions, it is a win-win situation - the target being the country’s large talent pool that is being trained to bridge the skills gap and consequently increase the user base of the products. For the institution, the advantages are obvious - they want to make their students saleable. Furthermore, the alliance helps them get closer to the industry. However, what strikes everyone’s attention is though these companies are approaching institutes like IITs, IIMs and others; they seem to have left out institutes in Tier-II cities. Director of Pune based PICT School of Information Technology and Management, Kumar Shrinivasan is one among those who feel that the industry could have done much more. “The IIT and IIM students are the cream of India; they are low-hanging fruits which are easy to pluck. However, companies’ investment in these premier institutions is also marginal,” Shrinivasan says, adding that instead of spending on training at the later stage, it is more sensible if these companies augment lab facilities, research and development facilities at the University level. And that is the basic difference in the education system of the U.S. and India.

The education system in the U.S. is research-based. They give more thrust on self-learning rather than teaching; while the Indian scenario is exactly the opposite. Bhaskaran S, Director, Medical Systems, Philips, adds, “The advantage of self-learning is that it increases one's creative ability. The techies in the U.S. Universities have access to the state-of-the-art infrastructure facilities. They do research work for the industry, that is not the case with Indians.”

The reason for such a faux-pass is that the Indian academic world is 15-20 years behind the tech world, believes Anand Adkoli, co-founder and CEO of Liqwid Krystal, a Bangalore-based company, which focuses on products and solutions for ICT learning. The Indian Universities are not in a position to deliver the requirements of companies due to lack of proper infrastructure. Compared to that the budget of the IITs in order to set up their infrastructure is very huge. There are various reasons behind shrinking quality of software professionals. Most of the Universities are providing the tools and techniques that are not useful for the current requirements of the industry. Under qualified faculty members are another reason. Most of the institutions hire fresh graduates for teaching, whereas the minimum requirement is at least an MS or a Master's degree. Likewise, there is a scarcity of at least 25,000 Master's degree holders. Hence the quality of graduates comes down.

Shrinivasan says, “Hardly four percent of the faculty members are involved in any kind of contribution to the Industry beyond the routine syllabus such as research and development, study and submitting papers. The rest do not contribute anything to the industry.” What institutions need to do is, instead of being more worried about providing degree certificates they should think of producing good engineers who can contribute to the industry, he suggests.

However on a broader perspective, this is not the handiwork of the institution or the industry alone, Government’s efforts need to lead the way. The Indian Government has formed so many committees in order to review the educational system, but the essential part is to implement the submissions of such committees. It is interesting to see when the Government of India will wake up and take a step ahead. Fortunately the Indian IT industry has woken up and started making the path for IT professionals to the industry via academia.
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