Make in India: Unlock industry-academia collaboration

India’s $10 trillion dream hinges on a manufacturing revolution. Prime Minister Narendra Modi‘s vision, embodied in ‘Make in India’ and ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’, seeks to make India a global manufacturing leader. However, to achieve this ambitious goal, India’s manufacturing sector needs to harness the power of innovation and technology, and this is where academia comes to the fore.

The conventional wisdom of promoting STEM at the school level is well known. So is the value of internships and apprenticeships companies offer engineering students. However, the fast-evolving manufacturing landscape requires a novel approach, and this is where I envision a paradigm shift in industry-academia collaboration. By fostering interdisciplinary intersections between technology, policy, and sustainability, India can create an ecosystem where collaboration and research spark not only innovative solutions, but also enable Indian manufacturing to learn from global best practices and leapfrog into sustainable production methods.

I have often considered the ‘China Plus One’ strategy a wake-up call for Indian manufacturing to ditch its cheap labour arbitrage and climb the value chain. While meeting immediate gaps through value-added manufacturing is crucial, it is a band-aid solution. The long-term solution lies in a bolder, more radical leap: building a robust innovation ecosystem that fuels original product development, not just outsourced assembly.

How do we make the shift? One of the keys to unlocking this is collaboration between industry and academia. Imagine a fertile ground where engineers and researchers collaborate, developing products, solutions, and intellectual property (IP) tailored to specific company goals. These partnerships aren’t just about churning out new products; they foster a culture of knowledge creation and transfer, the lifeblood of continuous innovation. Access to capital, bureaucratic hurdles, and a cultural shift towards risk-taking are some challenges we face. However, the rewards are immense: sustainable economic growth, global competitiveness, and improved quality of life.

The urgency to combat climate change demands a swift transition to a low-carbon future, and the manufacturing industry stands at a critical crossroads. From the cradle to the grave of a product – from the materials used to the energy consumed during manufacturing to the design that impacts end-of-life and reusability – manufacturers hold immense power to accelerate sustainability efforts. But navigating this complex terrain requires more than just good intentions.

This is where academic collaborations become game-changers. By partnering with universities and research institutions, manufacturers can leverage cutting-edge knowledge and expertise to leapfrog traditional solutions and embrace transformative innovations. The benefits extend beyond environmental gains to reduced costs, improved resource efficiency and product stewardship. Academia is crucial to parallel life-cycle assessments, identifying hotspots within the value chain, and developing strategies to optimise resource use.As a leading steel manufacturer, decarbonisation is our key priority at JSW Steel. To that end, we have partnered with IIT Bombay to set up the JSW Technology Hub at the Centre of Excellence in Steel Technology (CoEST). The hub will help us manage carbon emissions within a target range as we meet the growing demands for quality steel. We have also instituted a Chair at IIT Bombay to further advanced and interdisciplinary research in sustainable production and consumption of steel.India’s aspiration to become a global manufacturing powerhouse necessitates systemic reforms and changes. Enhancing and fostering civil society participation is imperative to inform the next phase of policy reforms. As a crucial link with the civil society and in their role as enablers of research, academia can enable data-driven policy decisions.

As stakeholders in the country’s development, we have established the JSW School of Public Policy at IIM Ahmedabad to nurture a new generation of knowledgeable, skilled, and ethical public policy professionals. Such partnerships can facilitate research and open dialogue among domain experts and make evidence-based recommendations to align policy decisions with the population’s needs and the country’s aspirations.

The digital revolution demands constant skill updates in manufacturing. While companies grasp their skill needs, specialised learning requires academic partnerships. These partnerships offer tailored training programs, exposure to cutting-edge research, and leadership development – fostering a continuous learning culture and fuelling innovation.

Industry-academia collaboration is an untapped source of transformative value for India’s manufacturing sector. The need of the hour is to create a collaborative ecosystem that nurtures innovation, drives sustainability, and builds a future-ready workforce. The only question that remains is, are we ready to take the leap?

(The writer is chairman, JSW)


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