Sunday, October 7, 2012

Industry-Academia Collaboration: Lessons from the Indian Automotive Industry

In a recently published paper*, Srivardhini Jha and I studied the nature of collaboration between academia and industry in the Indian automotive industry. After pharmaceuticals, transportation is the second largest target area for Indian industry’s R&D funding. The Indian automotive industry has been dynamic with players like Tata Motors, Mahindra and Bajaj actively involved in creating their own portfolios of new products.

This study was part of a comparative study of innovation in the automotive industry in India, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand supported by the Economic Research Institute of ASEAN and East Asia and piloted by Professors Atsushi Sunami and Patarapong Intarakumnerd at the Graduate Institute of Policy Studies (GRIPS), Tokyo.

With all these countries investing in creating domestic automotive capabilities, we wanted to see what role academia played in supporting innovation, and how government policy could help strengthen this process.

Research Questions

What is the nature of collaboration between industry and academia in the Indian automotive sector? How has the collaboration impacted the industry and academia respectively?

What role has the government played in Industry-university (IU) collaboration? What are the implications of any such intervention?

To answer these questions, we took an in-depth look at 3 Original Equipment Manufacturers, 2 component suppliers/manufacturers, and 3 research groups active in automotive related work in leading Indian institutions.

Key Findings

IU interaction for competency development and training in companies appears to be the most significant form of interaction.

The second most prevalent form of interaction is for analytical studies, testing, etc. i.e., companies are contracting with universities to provide research services.

IU collaboration is clustered around a handful of IITs and the Indian Institute of Science.

Investment by companies in research partnerships outside the umbrella of the government’s CAR program is rare.

The relative absence of research partnerships is not due to IP ownership issues, but because the cost and complexity involved in commercializing university research that is science and engineering research oriented (and not application oriented) is high.

Companies, driven by solving immediate or near-term problems, are focusing on assimilating and building on known technology from international vendors rather than creating new technology in-house or with university partnerships.

As a result, in a mature industry like the automotive industry, Government programs such as the Collaborative Auto Research Program (CAR) are useful in bringing industry and academia closer together though they may not result in technology transfer. It would be worthwhile to continue with such sector-specific models to build closer collaboration between academia and industry.

(* Full Reference of the paper: Krishnan, Rishikesha T., and Srivardhini K. Jha “Innovation in the Indian Automotive Industry: The Role of Academic & Public Research Institutions,” Asian Journal of Technology Innovation, Vol. 20, No. S1, 2012, pp. 67-84.)

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