‘Closing the Gap: Benefits of Academic-Industry Alignment for Innovation and Real-World Solutions’
Dr Rajneesh Wadhwa is Dean of External Affairs at SGT University. He brings in an overall work experience of 30+ years, 15 of those in the renewable energy sector in South Asia. He has also worked with several institutions of higher learning and is credited for aligning Academia and Industry.
At SGT University, Rajneesh has steered a number of strategic projects, including establishment of the Atal Community Innovation Center under NITI Aayog, launching Asia’s first National Reference Simulation Center in partnership with John Hopkins University, Laedral of Norway &; USAID, and instituting the multi-crore Professor Chair Endowments, all of which have established SGT University as a research-facing institution that fosters the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship.
In an interview with EduKida’s Kiran Malhotra, Wadhwa spoke about innovation and entrepreneurship and more
How have you managed to align academia and industry, and what benefits have you seen from this alignment?
Alignment between academia and industry is crucial for fostering innovation, driving economic growth, and addressing real-world challenges effectively. Establishing partnerships between academic institutions and industry allows for collaborative research projects. By combining academic expertise with industry resources and real-world data, these collaborations can lead to the development of practical solutions and advancements.
Academic institutions can play a crucial role by facilitating the transfer of knowledge, technologies, and intellectual property to industry. This can occur through licensing agreements, spin-off companies, or joint ventures, allowing academic research to be translated into real-world applications. Another important component is creating advisory boards consisting of industry experts and academic representatives. These boards help ensure that academic programs and research align with industry needs and evolving trends, thus enhancing the employability of graduates.
As a university, one must encourage students to participate in internships and co-op programs with industry partners which allows them to gain practical experience, understand industry workflows, and develop relevant skills. This strengthens the connection between academia and industry while providing a talent pipeline for companies.
For the existing talent pool, academic institutions can offer continuing education programs, workshops, and seminars to professionals in the industry. This helps bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical skills, enabling industry professionals to stay updated with the latest advancements.
Can you discuss the impact of the Renewable Energy Fund you created, and how it has supported renewable energy projects in India and South Asia?
India has been actively promoting renewable energy and has set ambitious targets for its expansion. The Indian government has implemented various policies, incentives, and programs to encourage the deployment of renewable energy projects, such as solar, wind, hydro, and biomass. These initiatives aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance energy security, and promote sustainable development.
The Renewable Energy Fund has been focussing on renewable energy projects that contribute to the diversification of the energy mix and reduce reliance on fossil fuels. The fund has been enabling the generation of clean, sustainable electricity, addressing the growing energy demands of the region and reducing carbon emissions.
There has been a conscious focus in extending electricity access to remote and rural areas. We have been funding off-grid and decentralized renewable energy solutions, such as solar home systems and mini-grids, that provide clean and affordable electricity to communities that are not connected to the main power grid. This contributes to rural development, improves livelihoods, and enables access to education, healthcare, and other essential services.
The fund has been contributing towards Job Creation and Economic Growth. I believe the renewable energy sector has the potential to generate employment opportunities and drive economic growth. The development, construction, and maintenance of renewable energy projects require a skilled workforce, creating jobs in various sectors, including manufacturing, installation, operations, and maintenance.
The expansion of renewable energy projects encourages technological advancements and innovation. It fosters the development of new technologies, such as more efficient solar panels, wind turbines, and energy storage solutions. This drives down costs, improves system efficiency, and promotes knowledge transfer between academia, industry, and research institutions. The Fund has been instrumental in bringing about this change too.
How do you see the renewable energy sector evolving in the coming years, and what role do you see India playing in this evolution?
The renewable energy sector is expected to undergo significant evolution in the coming years due to several factors, including technological advancements, policy support, market dynamics, and increasing global awareness of the need to address climate change.
Renewable energy technologies, particularly solar and wind, have experienced substantial cost reductions over the past decade. This trend is expected to continue, making renewables increasingly competitive with fossil fuels. Continued advancements in technology, economies of scale, and improved manufacturing processes will further drive down costs and enhance the cost-effectiveness of renewable energy projects.
Another important area to watch is the integration of energy storage technologies, such as advanced batteries, pumped hydro, and thermal storage, which will play a crucial role in the evolution of the renewable energy sector. Energy storage enables the efficient utilization of intermittent renewable sources, addressing the issue of variability and enabling the provision of reliable and dispatchable power.
The integration of renewable energy into the power grid requires upgrades and modernization of the grid infrastructure. Digital technologies, smart grids, and advanced grid management systems will facilitate the efficient integration of renewables, enable real-time monitoring, and control, and optimize the utilization of renewable resources is an emerging trend and area to watch.
I also believe that the shift towards renewable energy is not limited to the power sector alone. The electrification of transportation and the decarbonization of the heating sector are expected to drive increased demand for renewable electricity. The adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and the integration of renewable energy in heating and cooling systems will create new avenues for renewable energy deployment.
Can you share more about your efforts to improve healthcare accessibility and delivery in India, and how you have created employment opportunities in the healthcare sector?
Improving healthcare accessibility and delivery in India requires a multi-faceted approach that addresses infrastructure, affordability, skilled workforce, and innovation.
Investment in healthcare infrastructure, including hospitals, clinics, and primary healthcare centers, is crucial. Expanding the network of healthcare facilities, particularly in rural and underserved areas, ensures better access to healthcare services for the population. Implementing effective health financing mechanisms, such as health insurance schemes, can improve affordability and reduce out-of-pocket expenses for individuals. Expanding the coverage of existing schemes and developing targeted programs for marginalized communities can enhance healthcare accessibility.
Emphasis on the training and development of healthcare professionals cannot be ignored. This includes increasing the number of medical colleges, nursing schools, and allied health training institutes. Additionally, providing continuous professional development opportunities and incentivizing healthcare professionals to work in rural and remote areas can help address the shortage of skilled workforce in underserved regions.
I strongly believe that leveraging telemedicine and digital health technologies can bridge the gap between healthcare providers and patients, especially in remote areas. Encouraging the adoption of telemedicine platforms and mobile health applications can improve accessibility, reduce travel costs, and enable remote consultations and diagnosis.
India needs a concerted effort in the direction of prioritizing preventive and primary healthcare services which can lead to early detection and management of diseases, reducing the burden on secondary and tertiary care facilities. Strengthening primary healthcare infrastructure, implementing public health programs, and promoting health awareness and education can have a significant impact on overall healthcare delivery.
How do you foster a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship at SGT University, and what initiatives have you taken to promote research and innovation on campus?
Fostering a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship at universities requires creating a supportive ecosystem that encourages creativity, collaboration, and practical application of knowledge. We at SGT University continue to achieve this by setting up dedicated centers/incubators focused on innovation and entrepreneurship that can provide a platform for students, researchers, and faculty to collaborate, develop ideas, and launch startups. These centers offer mentorship, resources, funding opportunities, and networking events to support entrepreneurial ventures.
We promote interdisciplinary collaborations among different faculties and departments. We encourage students and faculty from diverse backgrounds to work together on projects, combining their expertise to solve complex problems. Interdisciplinary collaboration fosters creativity, expands perspectives, and enhances innovation.
We at SGT University offer funding opportunities and grants specifically designed to support research and innovation. We have established internal funding mechanisms or collaborated with external partners to provide financial resources for projects, prototypes, and proof-of-concept studies. Funding support incentivizes students and researchers to pursue innovative ideas and turn them into reality.
Over the last decade, we have been forging strong partnerships with industry players, startups, and established companies. We continue to collaborate on research projects, joint initiatives, and knowledge exchange programs. Industry partnerships provide access to real-world challenges, resources, and opportunities for students and researchers to develop practical solutions and gain industry experience.
The university has taken a futuristic step by developing entrepreneurship-focused courses and programs that equip students with essential business skills, entrepreneurial mindset, and knowledge about startup ecosystems. We offer courses on topics such as business planning, marketing, finance, and intellectual property rights. Entrepreneurship programs also include experiential learning opportunities, such as internships and startup incubation programs.
We have established mechanisms to support intellectual property (IP) protection for innovative ideas and research outcomes. We continue to educate students and researchers about the importance of IP rights and guide them through the patent filing process, creating an environment that values and protects intellectual property encourages innovation and entrepreneurship.
We also foster a Culture of Risk-Taking and Learning from Failure. We offer a supportive environment where students and researchers feel comfortable taking calculated risks, experimenting, and iterating their ideas, celebrating and sharing stories of successful innovation and entrepreneurial journeys to inspire others.