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September 11, 2009

Needed, an entrepreneurial university in NE

Heard about the North East Vision 2020? Well, this document highlights the developmental, resource and infrastructure gaps in the north-eastern region and the challenges ahead to bridge this gap in order to bring the area at par with the rest of India. It was released by the Prime Minister in July 2008.

Now when we refer to this document or talk about the region’s development, we end up asking things like whether it would be possible to see the region’s Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) rise from the average of 4.6 per cent during 2000-2005 to 12.35 per cent during the 12th Plan (2012-2017) and 15.16 per cent in the 13th Plan (2017-2022). In simple terms, the region’s growth rate must increase three times by 2020 if it is to reach the average level of development in the country as a whole. Therefore, we talk about connectivity, infrastructure, investment and trade etc.

But do we talk about education or developing human capital in the north-eastern region in the same vigour or seriousness as we talk about things like GSDP or infrastructure development? The answer obviously is a big ‘no’. In fact, the Prime Minister has been repeatedly harping on the need to boost human resources in the Northeast as a means to change the region’s overall economic and development profile.

Picking up, perhaps, on this emphasis on education as an engine of growth, the Education, Research & Development Foundation (ERD) — a Guwahati-based private education group engaged in providing outlets of higher and technical education — organized a panel discussion last week on the role of universities, higher and technical institutions and research and development bodies in the implementation of the North East Vision 2020. I moderated the discussion and I must say the diverse views and ideas presented by the panelists that included vice chancellors, scientists, researchers, trade and industry leaders and others can be channelized to give a direction to the role of education in boosting the region.

One idea that particularly struck me was the emphasis on setting up an entrepreneurial university in the region. There are such universities already in the US and other nations. Many universities successfully accomplish their primary mission of teaching and/or research, and yet have not established or nurtured a tradition of new venture creation based on those teaching and research successes. In order to establish such a culture of new venture creation within a university, decisions must be made to either spend limited resources to nurture early “model ventures,” or to spend the resources to create an infrastructure that will nurture many new ventures.

This suggestion came at the discussion in the backdrop of a general consensus about the need for a vigorous industry-academia-government collaboration in using or channelizing quality education as an engine of growth in a region like the Northeast. Take a look at some of the indicators in the field of education in the region: college enrolment is very low in the Northeast (even the national average at 10 per cent is very low). It is 4.8 per cent in Nagaland and 5.6 per cent in Arunachal Pradesh. To add to the dismal rate of enrolment is the fact that most of the students go for the arts stream and depend on government jobs. Students pursuing science or mathematics are even lower. This is a matter of concern.

The Vision 2020 document has said emphasis must not be on setting up more ‘run-of-the-mill’ universities. It says higher education should focus on one of the following three areas of training: (1) those which fuel the development of the region (2) those in globally expanding professions (3) areas which focus on ‘core competencies’ of the people in the region. Perhaps in the light of the above, the idea of an entrepreneurial university in the Northeast must be taken seriously by the authorities as it is in sync with the Vision 2020 road map.

Another idea thrown up at the panel discussion was the need to have technology and business incubators in universities in the region. Now, what are these incubators? Business incubators are programs designed to accelerate the successful development of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services, developed and orchestrated by incubator management and offered both in the incubator and through its network of contacts. Incubators vary in the way they deliver their services, in their organizational structure, and in the types of clients they serve.

Business incubation has been identified as a means of meeting a variety of economic and socioeconomic policy needs, which may include creating jobs and wealth, fostering a community’s entrepreneurial climate, technology commercialization, diversifying local economies, building or accelerating growth of local industry clusters, business creation and retention, and encouraging women or minority entrepreneurship.

In the bottom line is that the region needs to think hard on ways to revamp its education system or educational needs and push ahead on the road to building a massive human capital. That has the real potential to change the region’s development profile. THE SENTINEL

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