Technology has enabled students to reach out and explore ‘roads not taken’. The generation today shows great potential and has a sharp eye for shortcomings that could be bridged with technology.
Most students enroll in programmes in university or college to receive marks in order to secure a well-paid job. They see their classroom and campus experiences as a means to an end. This often leads to graduates with very poor employability levels.
The term student engagement has essentially become a buzzword in the higher education sector. Many of the researchers, policy makers, institutions and students are often misguided in using this term while speaking of enhancing the overall student experience.
So, what do we do to harness this potential and enhance the level of student engagement?
Catch them early
Engaging students in the very first year of their college life is critical to gain their attention. The next step is to generate interest in them which stays with them during the remainder of their academic life. A teacher must play a role of not just being an imparter of knowledge, but also nurture the values of innovation and entrepreneurship at an early stage. Exposing students to success stories, with campus innovation, and assigning them mentors and providing them appropriate facilities are key to nurturing talent.
Having an incubator cell provides an opportunity for students to have a hands-on engineering experience while enabling their entrepreneurial skills. Having production quality equipment in these cells along with skilled operators helps enable students to convert ideas into reality.
The goal of an incubation cell is to remain relevant and enable the emerging thinkers to pursue surer pathways to success. Universities are introducing innovative methods wherein students have access to fellow entrepreneurs and interested funding channels. Academic incubators have helped universities rethink their role in preparing the next generation, creating an entrepreneurial ecosystem that facilitates connections and speeds up ideation, from stages of conception to fruition.
These cells are functionally distinct from their classrooms, libraries and student unions, academic incubators establish new forums for idea exchange on campus. They are designed to trigger strategic partnerships between academia and industry. Incubators connect students to startups, investors and other collaborators they might not otherwise encounter. As such, academic incubators bestow a community, resources and a physical environment is essential in fostering an entrepreneurial mindset.
A time-bound approach to translating ideas to products helps students to focus on the immediate task at hand. A common hurdle slowing down innovations in campus is a lack of business acumen among the faculty and their students, and a shallow understanding of technology among students. A good mentor connect is vital in this respect. The role of the corporate world and the alumni in providing the appropriate mentorship would be a key success factor.
Depending on the stated purpose and mission, incubators may offer co-working or maker spaces, conference rooms, labs, cafes, concierge services and mentoring staff. Of late, academic accelerator programmes have been established to help promising students to do a feasibility analysis, arrange for finance, understand patent laws and develop effective pitching skills.
One needs to understand that the success ratio of ideas to products would be lower in an academic incubation space. In the startup ecosystem, the failure rate of startups is over 90%, after the first year. The key to any successful startup is to have patience and celebrate each success.
This will have a profound impact on motivating the next set of innovators and entrepreneurs. Visibility provided to campus innovations and entrepreneurial efforts will build role models which help wean students away from their current state of apathy towards engineering education.
About the author: Sudhir Sosale works with the National Institute of Engineering, Mysore, heading Innovations, Product Development and Commercialization of Ideas.He has also worked as a business leader managing teams across different geographies, nurturing Innovation at workplaces across companies such as Intel and HP amongst others.