Role of Academia in Industrial Developments


The word ‘academic’ often has a pejorative implication. The contribution of generations of academics in the development and dissemination of scientific, engineering and technical knowledge cannot be over-emphasized. Most of the industrial technologies owe their origins to contributions by academia. It should be noted that even the industry practitioners owe their education and training to academics. Most designers routinely refer to data, design methodologies and fundamental knowledge (e.g., thermodynamics, heat/mass transfer, advanced analytical and computational tools) generated and freely disseminated by academics working in a non-profit environment after careful peer review – also carried out voluntarily.

It is unfortunate that industry, as well as various government and granting agencies, do not give appropriate credit to the not-for-profit academic institutions and faculty members for their important impact on for-profit industrial technologies. The principal beneficiaries of the academic outcomes are industry and businesses, which take up ideas and knowledge germinated in educational institutions and research laboratories, develop them further and bring them to the market. Ultimately, the global society benefits from this joint effort of the non-profit institutions and for-profit businesses. Unfortunately, this synergy is often not recognized and appreciated in a tangible manner by the society in general. To promote academia-industry interaction in a mutually beneficial manner, it is important that governments, businesses, industry, and their relevant agencies provide for adequate support of educational and research institutions. In return, academia and research institutions must seek excellence and aim to make a definitive contribution to the society.

To sum, industry and granting agencies need to recognize the important role of academics and academia. It is naturally appropriate to expect that industry interacts tangibly with academia to extend the frontiers of current technologies. Rather than waiting for a random discovery or invention by an academic that could benefit some industrial product or process, albeit, without cost,  it is better than industry provides some direction and funding to accelerate development of knowledge that can benefit it sooner than later.

Research and Development are central to technological innovation which now drives knowledge-based economies of the world. Even a cursory look at investments various nations have made in R&D and higher education shows the direct link to their GDP growth. Advanced economies also demonstrate the success of cooperation between the public and private sectors to synergize research accrued out of academia with development effort of the industry. Without high-level research capabilities developed by academia in any nation, it is unlikely that any domestic industry can make truly innovative world-class technologies for lack of adequate financial resources and high-quality talent. Therefore, it is imperative that countries like India prioritize research in universities, R&D in industry and further promote academia-industry cooperation by encouraging it legislatively. The focus should be on developing high-end world-class technologies rather than licensing sometimes outdated technologies from overseas even if that formula works in the short term. For example, China ramped up their national R&D budget along with a massive increase in budgets for higher education and basic research over the past three decades; the results of this investment are already evident on the global scale.

Professor Arun S. Mujumdar is affiliated with Bioresource Engineering, McGill University, Montreal, Canada. He is Editor-in-Chief, Drying Technology – an international journal. He is the advisor to several universities and consults for industry internationally. 

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.