Sponsored Research Study: Some Insights

” There is no medicine like hope, no incentive so great and no tonic 

so powerful as expectations of something better than tomorrow.”

-Dr. Orioson Swett Marden (1848–1924)

If I can call acceptance of my papers that I wrote for research conferences as the first booster, the letter from the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India sanctioning a grant of twelve lakh rupees for our proposal to study the interaction between technical institutions and SME sector in Science and Technology (S&T) domain was the second booster for my research. Having managed a few Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) for nearly two decades, I was keen to understand the factors essential in establishing and managing relationships between academia and the SME sector, especially in the S&T domain.

One of the requirements of the sponsor of the research study was: the Principal Investigator had to form a Local Project Advisory Committee (LPAC) with members drawn from S&T SMEs and researchers drawn from technology institutions (not less than four in each type), with a senior member nominated as Chairman. The committee had to meet at least three times during the project period. The process of identifying the right members for the LPAC and getting their consent took almost two months. Our LPAC committee consisted of members from techno-business institutions working at Bangalore, Chennai, and Hyderabad and eight from the S&T SME sector, all from Bangalore, representing technology-driven manufacturing and service domains. We had the fortune of having Dr. N. R. Shetty, former Vice-Chancellor of Bangalore University (BU) giving his consent to be the Chairman. Advisor and Head as well as Director of National Science and Technology Management Information System (NSTMIS) were ex-officio members representing the sponsoring agency; the Director, Canara Bank of School of Management Studies, BU was co-opted. Thus, including three of us, there were nineteen members in the LPAC by end of April 2004 and the same was communicated to director, NSTMIS. We received the first instalment of the grant during May 2004.

In all earnest our team started literature survey on the Industry-Institution models and the outcomes of such partnerships to develop suitable research methodology for our study. The first LAPC meeting was convened some time during August 2004. Prof. Sridhar, Principal Investigator, presented the preliminary literature survey work that we had done and the methodology we planned for our research. We proposed Focussed Group Discussions (FGD), one each at Bangalore, Chennai, and Hyderabad, the group consisting of local SME industrialists and researchers. We also proposed to gather all the relevant data from S&T SMEs and techno-business institutions established in the three southern states – then Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu through a structured questionnaire, as one of the requirements of NSTMIS was to know how many institutions are interacting with SMEs and what is the effectiveness of the interactions and their outcomes.

The research team decided to conduct the first FGD at Hyderabad and same was organised at the School of Management Studies (SMS), Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University (JNTU) with the help of Prof. Narayana Reddy, Dean, Chaitanya College of Management Studies and Dr. M. Srinivasa Bhat, Director, SMS on 12th October 2004. There were twenty-five participants drawn from SME sector, academia, research, industry associations, retired bureaucrats, and consultants who participated in the discussions. Through the FGD we gathered information on the types and outcomes of institution-industry interactions in general and how a specific problem was addressed through such interaction.

I proceeded from Hyderabad to Delhi to participate in the first International Conference on Business Incubators (BIs) as well as to visit the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE), the national regulatory body that develops policies, programs, and compliance requirements for technical and business education in India. I also visited Indian Institute of Technology-Delhi (IIT-D) to understand their model and effectiveness of interaction with S&T SMEs in that region. My participating in the conference on BIs helped me to network with several BIs established in the country as well as with some of the DST officials.

The second FGD was held at IIT-Madras which had an independent cell for interacting with industries – Centre for Industrial Consultancy and Sponsored Research. Prof. Rajan Mani, member of our LPAC, based out of Chennai coordinated in organising the FGD on 9th December 2004, which was well attended.

The final one at Bangalore was organised in the form of a Round Table Conference at Hotel Taj Residency on 11th January 2006. Dr. Thimmappa, who was then the Vice-Chancellor of Bangalore University was the chief guest. In his opening remarks he said: only when the knowledge created through research is shared with all concerned does it become meaningful. The sixty-odd participants came from diverse fields: information technology, bio-technology, machine tools, electronics, auto components industry sectors, etc. as well as senior faculty members from engineering and management colleges from Bangalore and other parts of Karnataka. Dr. Balaji, Head of Human Resources at Sasken Communications Limited moderated the discussions.

Apart from the FGDs, an extensive study was done to understand the status of interactions between techno-management institutions and the SMEs in the S&T sectors based on the survey of 139 institutions and 122 SMEs in the chosen three Southern States.

The analysis revealed the existence of five types of interactions:

  1. Knowledge-oriented,
  2. Industry-oriented,
  3. Academic-oriented,
  4. Short-term association-oriented, and
  5. Long-term association-oriented.

The analysis further revealed that there are three major underlying motivational factors for the institutions:

  1. Institution Orientation – Elements pertaining to the Vision, Mission and Brand image
  2. Revenue Orientation – Elements that enhance flow of resources
  3. Student Orientation – Interest of the students, mainly for project work and securing employment.

The two major benefits perceived by the institutions were:

  1. Brand building
  2. Knowledge building

Industries appear to stress the social responsibility towards the institutions more than seeking their alliances for outsourcing or strategic partnership.

While recommending a road map, we suggested:

  1. Aligning the domains of interaction, motivations for interactions and perceived benefits of interactions have to be ensured in order to enable a free flow of interactions.
  2. Domains of interaction have to be enhanced progressively from the operational routine and short-term perspective to an increasingly knowledge-intensive orientation and long-term perspective.

Being a member of the investigating team for such a research study helped me understand the process of developing a methodology for conducting a research, ways and means of gathering primary data, and using established statistical tools for analysis. The icing on the cake was not only I could travel to different institutions and meet experts in Chennai, Delhi, and Hyderabad, I also received an honorarium for learning all this!

November 15, 2019 | Ravi 27