Promoting Culture of Innovation in Technical Institutes

In order to be at the frontier of scientific discovery and invention, the students as well as the faculty in the technical institutes and universities should be encouraged to think anti-conventional and develop ability to look beyond their discipline. In fact colleges and universities can play a key role in providing a fertile ground for cultivation of world-changing, innovative and entrepreneurial ideas. For this purpose, there is a need for creating a culture of creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship in the technical and engineering institutes across the country. This kind of organizational culture will not only stimulate the creativity and innovation among the students and faculty, but it will accelerate the transition of research and innovation from the lab to the field and market place. It will also encourage closure interaction and cooperation between industry, field and academic for overall growth and development of the nation.

Now, in view of the present initiatives of Government of India like Make in India, Startup India, Digital India etc, the role of technical education becomes more important to harness the creative potential of the large young population of the country. Moreover, the inclusion of large number of manufacturing industry and IT industry have generated a huge demand for quality and skilled technical manpower in the country. As a matter of fact, in the present age of competitions and technologically fast growing society, the technical manpower needs to be futuristic and innovative. For that purpose besides technological empowerment of the students, they need to be encouraged to be entrepreneurs and innovators. Through his article effort has been made to identify the ways and means to foster the culture of innovation in the technical institutes.

What is innovation?

Before talking about the ways and means of promoting innovations, let us first understand what do we mean by the innovation. Though, the term ‘innovation’ is being used extensively in all walks of life including education, industry, agriculture, economics, politics and so on, but surprisingly it has been observed that a majority of people are not well aware of the concept of innovation. Many of them are confused with the terms like innovation, invention, creativity and discovery. Many a times the first three terms are used inter changeably. Invention, innovation and creation of new knowledge are key components of development in science and technology. But, innovation is  something fresh which may be new, original, or improved  that adds value. In fact something new cannot be enough for the definition of innovation unless there is value addition. Here it is important to be noted that the “something” could be a process, product, or service and can start as small as your ideas and thoughts in your brain. In that case, it might just be innovative thinking.

Engineering students using an innovative 3D printer in the laboratory
Engineering students using an innovative 3D printer in the laboratory

In simple terms we can say that innovation means doing something new, different, and smarter or better that leads to positive difference in the product, process or service.  Innovation can be defined as the process of implementing new ideas to add values to the system, process, product or processes. It is also viewed as the application of better solutions to existing problems and inarticulate needs. It is about identifying and /or creating new approaches to do what we have been doing. The term innovation may refer to both radical and incremental changes to products, processes or services..

Significance of Innovation in Technical Education

Technical education plays a key role in over all development of a nation by creating skilled manpower, enhancing industrial productivity, boosting economic growth and improving quality of life of its people. In the present age of competition and individual oriented demand, the technical education seems to be the only way by which newer and value added products and services could be made available. In today’s scenario, technical education is one of the most popular choices of majority of students. In fact majority of the talented youth go for technical higher education. In India technical education has drastically grown during the past three decades. There has been a huge rate of increase in the total number of institutions offering technical education from 158 in 1980 to 10329 in 2016. It has also increased the intake of students in technical and engineering degree level programmes from 28,500 to 38,38302 during the same period.

Promoting Culture of Innovation

Evidently, innovation is the key to the growth and progress of an organization. It is true that the organizations that do not innovate effectively may be destroyed by those who do. In fact, innovation is linked to performance and growth through improvements in efficiency, productivity, quality, competitive positioning and market share, etc. Normally the unspoken goal of innovation is to solve a problem.  We know that one of the basic objectives of the technical education is also to find solutions to various types problems in the society. For that purpose, it becomes imperative to create a culture of innovation in the technical institutes. In this context, following activities may be quite useful.

  1. Setup Innovation Incubators and Entrepreneurship Labs: Most of the technical institutes draw bright young minds, but the question is how many of them think like entrepreneurs and innovators? And, those who think like entrepreneurs, how many of them get required environment, technical and financial support to convert their ideas into a profitable business. You can reap a good and healthy crop only when you good seeds and nurture them properly. In fact technical institutes and universities can act as ‘nursery of innovators’. It is true that everybody has ideas and solutions to the problems. Such ideas can be converted into innovation provided they are identified in time and given appropriate intellectual, technical and financial support. An incubator is a place where suitable facilities and expertise are made available to carry out innovations. In fact incubation activities are aimed at addressing the needs of innovators and help the entrepreneurs to develop their business ideas and transform them into sustainable realities. The basic objectives of innovation incubator could be to create innovative and sustainable start ups, stimulate local entrepreneurship and identity and nurture the innovators. The basic philosophy of the Innovation Incubator is based on new enterprises with innovative products and services.

In case of students, this type of role should be played by their institutes and universities. The innovation based incubator can work as a forum for new entrepreneurs that intend to develop innovative ideas. If we look at the domains of entrepreneurship and of innovation, we find a common ground where ideas are both innovative and profitable. Innovation based incubator and the entrepreneurship lab can help in translating such ideas in sound businesses as per the specific needs of market. Recognizing the strength of the incubator, several institutes have setup incubators or incubation labs. For example, the Amity University, with the support of  Department of Science & Technology, Govt. of India, has setup an Incubator. It has incubated a number of companies having significant financial and operating growth. It has helped in employment generation, filing of patents by the faculty, students and entrepreneurs. Similarly, the Acharya Narenddra Dev College of Delhi University has also set up a campus based entrepreneurship lab. This lab has been manufacturing and marketing sensitizers, sun screens and perfumes etc. The lab gives students hands on training as well as exposure to the world of entrepreneurs. This is a platform where students learn through the process and their ideas are translated into reality. Now many other colleges of Delhi University are coming forward to set up such entrepreneurship Labs and Incubators.

  1. Organize Student Innovation Competitions & Exhibitions : In order to motivate the young minds of the technical institutes towards innovation, it is necessary to provide them a platform where students can showcase their vision of developing something which is innovative, futuristic and promotes out of the box thinking. It is a fact that a large number of technical students try to develop something innovative, but they need encouragement, motivation and peer group feedback. Inter institute competitions and exhibitions of students’ innovations will not give an opportunity to the innovators to showcase their innovations, but it will encourage other students also towards innovations. Though a number of institutes organizes such competitions and exhibitions, but it needs to be taken up as a movement across the institutes and universities. For such competitions, there could be specific themes for innovation based on some day to day life problems. For example, there could be a theme based on traffic problems in metro cities. Students may be asked to give innovative solutions and ideas to handle such problems. The students should be given some attractive prizes, certificates and other incentives for their future career. Recently, an Inter NIT Student Innovation Competition was organized by the National Institute of Technology (NIT), Uttarakhand, which was quite successful.
  2. Organizing Awareness programmes on Innovation : Awareness programmes on innovations and creativity should be organized to motivate and guide the students from time to time. In this kind of programmes, students can be given exposure to various kinds of innovations highlighting their features. Students as well as the teachers may be exposed to the concept of innovation and other related aspects such as types of innovations, parameters of innovation, best practices, etc. Innovation drives could also be organized from time to time.
  3. Provide Conducive Environment for Innovation: In order to encourage innovations in any institute, it is very important to provide a conducive environment for doing something new and differently. We should not be afraid of the failures. It is a fact that failure also gives opportunity for better and more effective outcome. Roger Von Oech , an American speaker and author says, “Remember the two benefits of failure. First, if you do fail, you learn what does not work, and second, the failure gives you the opportunity to try a new approach.” In fact when you are trying anything new may be radical or incremental, it is innovating.  Thus, encourage students and teachers at least for incremental innovations.
  4. Encourage all Kinds of Ideas: It is rightly said that “everything begins with an idea.” Henry Ford says that “the air is full of ideas. They are knocking you in the head all the time. You only have to know what you want then forget it, and go about your business. Suddenly, the idea will come through. It was there all the time.” Ideas are continuously generated in our mind. Initially most of the ideas seem to be foolish and absurd. In fact according to Albert Einstein, “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” The college/university should provide a contusive environment for exchanging the ideas, among the students and faculty. Roosevelt says that “great minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events and small mind discuss people.” Thus discussing ideas itself indicates the greatness of the minds i.e. the students and faculty. Thus, the students coming up with any kind of new and innovative idea or innovation should be encouraged.
  5. Set up innovation and/or creativity clubs: Innovation is considered to be the key for growth and development of an institute. In order to promote the culture of innovation in the country, the Government of India has declared this decade as the innovation Decade. Moreover, recently the Hon’ble President of India as Visitor of Central Universities has also emphasized on the need of innovation in the education sector. Hon’ble President of India as well as the Hon’ble Human Resource Development Minister have asked all the central Universities and institutes to constitute Innovation Clubs.  In view of this the technical colleges and universities should formulate Innovation Clubs. Formation of Innovation Clubs will not only help in creating a culture of innovation, but it will also create a conducive environment for the faculty & students to do innovations. Innovation and/or creativity clubs should comprise of students and teachers. could Besides  generating awareness about creativity and innovations among the students & faculty the basic objectives of the Innovation Clubs could be to identify and promote the grass-root level innovations by the faculty as well as the students, and  also to create a network of innovators and thus creating  a culture of innovation in the institute and university.

In order to meet the objectives of the Innovation Club, a verity of activities can be organized on regular basis. The innovation club may organize periodic meetings of the club members to generate new ideas and identify innovations by students, faculty, and other staff of the college/university. In addition to it, other students, teachers and staff members may be invited to share their innovative ideas and skills and showcase their innovative products and processes. The club may also organize awareness campaign and various types of competitions like quiz, debates, posters, etc on creativity and innovations within college/university. In fact, it can prove to be a very good platform to the students, faculty and staff to be engaged in the innovative activities and programmes related to institutes.

  1. Bring out a periodical on innovation: In order to publicize the news and views on innovations taking place within the institute as well as outside the institute, it may be a good idea to publish such information in the form a magazine or newsletter on innovation on a periodic basis say monthly or quarterly. Such periodical may be brought out in the printed form or even in the electronic form. In will not only encourage students to documents their innovations and innovative ideas, but will be good means of disseminating their ideas.
  2. Promote Start-ups: It is considered that the start-up companies are almost synonymous with innovation, where as the well established companies are usually perceived as less innovative and they avoid taking risk. Students’s entrepreneurship is an important goal of any technical education. But, in the context of Start-up India initiative of the Government of India, it becomes more pertinent to encourage and support the ambitions start ups across the country. In this context, the role of technical institutes become more important to support and coordinate the programmes and events that advance student entrepreneurship. In this regard special orientation and training programmes for the students and faculty may be organized focusing on entrepreneurship and promoting startups.
  3. Online Institutional Innovation Platform: In order to share information and knowledge about on-campus entrepreneurship programmes and innovative ideas, the institutes and universities may set up an online innovation platform. Students as well as faculty may use this platform to share their experiences both successful and failure. It may include threaded discussion and feedback from other students and teachers focusing on what works, what doesn’t and what improvement are possible in a particular innovation. It can be developed as a hub of mutual learning, networking, mentorship and creativity. The culture of sharing ideas will certainly cultivate the culture of innovation in the institute. In this context George Bernard Shaw has rightly said that “If you have an apple and I have an apple and we exchange these apples, then you and I will still each have one apple. But if you have an idea and I have an idea and we exchange these ideas, then each of us will have two ideas.”
  4. Appropriate support and funds : In order to try out and implement an innovative idea, an appropriate support and funds should be made available to the innovative students/teachers. It is therefore, necessary that all the institutes and universities have certain fund allocated for such kind of innovative initiatives by the students and the teachers. Efforts may be made to tie up with some sponsoring agencies and corporate houses for funding.

Conclusively, it can be said that the entrepreneurship and innovation should be made an integral component of their curricula and co-curricular activities. Efforts may be made to develop a research and innovation centric culture at all levels of education in the technical institutions and universities across the country. Besides teaching engineering, the concept of re-engineering of processes & products should also be encouraged, which in turn will promote the culture of innovation among the students.

Author – Dr. Oum Prakash Sharma, Deputy Director, National centre for Innovation in Distance Education, Indira Gandhi National Open university, Maidan Garhi, New Delhi – 110068

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