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Prof Rajeev Ahuja Bats For Academia’s Accountability In Research

Prestigious long established universities and other institutions of higher learning, like the Panjab University Chandigarh for example, have been struggling these past few years to forge industry-academia partnerships to sustain their research work in the face of fast dwindling government funding. But why are they largely being unsuccessful?

Earlier the industry was being blunt in its response, but now more and more members from the academia too are being frank in admitting the obvious.

The latest admission came from Prof Rajeev Ahuja, Director, IIT Ropar, at the Panjab University on Thursday while delivering a lecture on ‘Vision For IIT Ropar’ to mark National Technology Day and the 10th Foundation Day of CRIKC (Chandigarh Region Innovation and Knowledge Cluster).

Prof Rajeev Ahuja Bats For Academia’s Accountability In Research, Lifeinchd

Photos By: Life In Chandigarh

Prof Ahuja, one of the highest cited researchers in Sweden and India in the field of computational materials science, with focus on energy, such as batteries, hydrogen storage and production, sensors and high pressure physics, while sharing that one of his top most priorities on joining IIT Ropar as its director has been to forge strong result oriented industry-academia collaboration, was candid enough to say “we must admit that we (academia) have been badly lagging in this area.”

Without mincing words, he said there is scepticism in the industry about the ability and capacity of the researchers in the academia to deliver on promised research and innovation, and to deliver within required timelines. “They cannot keep waiting for us to deliver. Accountability has to be ensured,” he asserted.

Prof Rajeev Ahuja Bats For Academia’s Accountability In Research, Lifeinchd

This issue had also cropped up in a recent conference on opportunities for MSMEs of North India in defence production organised by Northern Region headquarters of CII in Chandigarh.

In her address, PU Vice Chancellor Prof Renu Vig had expressed disappointment that she did not see any mention of higher education institutions and academia in the conference though she had gone on to list the recent research achievements and patents won by the university.

During the course of the conference spread over two sessions, some of the industry leaders had later retorted that the time had come to rise above patents won for pure academic interest and migrate to product development research. The need to shift focus from built to design specifications to build to requirement was also highlighted at the conference.

Prof Rajeev Ahuja Bats For Academia’s Accountability In Research, Lifeinchd

Coming back to Prof Rajeev Ahuja’s lecture, his observation on attitudes of faculty members also raised eyebrows as there were many faculty members in the audience who, prior to the lecture, were formally presented certificates of their recently won patents by Prof Ahuja and PU Vice Chancellor Renu Vig jointly.

He opined that faculty in institutions of higher learning, who are responsible for driving research, showed keenness to secure projects but were not motivated enough to venture out of their comfort zone at the execution stage. This is another hurdle in industry-academia collaboration, he added.

Emphasising that research is a collaborative effort, he strongly advocated collaboration within faculty and between different institutions on specific projects as the way forward, marking a clean shift from the current trend of working in silos. While admitting that collaboration takes time to mature, he however stressed that patience and perseverance is the key to success in this area.

Prof Rajeev Ahuja Bats For Academia’s Accountability In Research, Lifeinchd

Prof Ahuja expressed his strong belief that more than infrastructure, it is the intellectual capital of any institution of higher learning which makes it competitive, and cited the example of the top ranking global educational centres in this regard.

Claiming that IIT Ropar is one of the fastest growing IITs in the country based on various performance parameters, despite being among the younger IITs in the country (Estd. 2008), he mentioned that a young passionate faculty eager to deliver is a big advantage. Clearly taking a dig at mature faculty in older institutions, he said it becomes very difficult to deal with them because of resistance to change.

Listing out various initiatives taken by IIT Ropar during the last two years with him at the helm, Prof Ahuja mentioned the deepening direct association of the institution with the Indian Army. “We have engaged with the Army North Eastern Command, visited their forward areas bordering China to know their requirements in which we can help find solutions.

“We have also entered into a MoU with the Shimla-based ARTRAC (Army Training Command) for training Army personnel in areas of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML). A first batch is scheduled to join a training module at our campus on May 15,” he added.

To oversee research and development in this sector, a Centre of Excellence for Studies and Applied Research in Defence and Security has been set up at IIT Ropar.

Prof Ahuja pointed out that bio imaging, bio instrumentation, unconventional diagnostics and therapy is another of the trust areas at IIT Ropar, under which the biggest centre for manufacturing in the healthcare sector is being created on its premises. Currently there is no manufacturing worth its name in this sector happening in the country, he observed.

IIT Ropar also houses the country’s only Agriculture and Water Technology Development Hub (iHub-AwaDH) which is providing incubation resources and support to technology-based start-ups towards sustainable agriculture.

Prof Rajeev Ahuja Bats For Academia’s Accountability In Research, Lifeinchd

Prof Ahuja said IIT Ropar, with its focus on science, competitiveness and innovation, wants to remain in the forefront of contributing to the country’s priority areas in its Atmanirbhar push, including in Quantum Technologies and in Semi Conductors Mission, emerging technologies which are going to remain in demand for the next 30-40 years.

For this, a Centre for Micro and Nano Fabrication is coming up on the campus as a in-house central facility that would cater to all the fabrication needs of the faculty members across various disciplines. This one-of-a-kind facility would house state-of-the-art equipment required for cutting-edge research in science and technology.

He offered to seriously collaborate with other educational institutions of higher learning and research establishments in the region to create an ecosystem for cutting edge research and innovation so that funding comes in equal measure to this part of the country as well.

The lecture was organised by Society for Promotion of Science & Technology in India (SPSTI) and CRIKC.  

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