Tuesday, April 10, 2012

To raise talent pool, tech companies start funding PhD students

Plagued by the shortage of scientific talent, technology companies in India — both MNCs and homegrown firms — are taking it upon themselves to build a pool of research-oriented personnel in a bid to move up the value chain. With the number of PhDs from reputed science institutes in India languishing at close to 1,000 – 1,500 per year, compared to 8,000–9,000 in the United States and China, firms like Infosys, and global tech majors such as Yahoo! and Synopsys are sponsoring an increasing number of doctorate programmes, and encouraging their employees to pursue research programmes while working.

Lobby bodies in the tech space have also launched campaigns to goad member companies into funding PhDs across the country. “The demand for PhDs in the industry has gone up significantly, while there is hardly any supply. People don’t want to pursue doctorates in India because they don't get proper support from the government and are not highly remunerated. There is a shortage of high-quality institutions here, and the quality of research is also poor,” said industry veteran and former Infosys human resource director TV Mohandas Pai. “With such grants, companies have little option but to sponsor more and more PhDs, and build relations that clarify industry requirements, in order to create a talent base that can help Indian technology move forward,” Pai added.

Infosys has provided fellowships to over 90 PhD students in the past few years, and has also instituted ‘The Science Foundation’, which has raised a Rs. 100-crore (Rs. 1 billion) corpus to facilitate science and research work in five areas, including physical sciences, mathematical sciences, engineering and computer science, life sciences and social sciences. It has also launched support programmes for PhD courses and some of the researchers within the firm are now internal guides for aspiring PhDs.

Yahoo! India has launched a ‘PhD Co-op programme wherein some employees pursue doctorate in computer science from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) with a monthly stipend from the company and unrestricted access to its data sets. The firm, whose second-largest global R&D team is based in Bangalore, plans to extend the programme to all IITs and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) as well. “Over the last four years, Yahoo’s Bangalore centre has yielded a 50% average year-on-year increase in idea submissions for patent consideration. It is disheartening to know that an Indian PhD is not considered equivalent to an international PhD most of the time. It only makes sense to launch such programmes to bridge the unfortunate industry-academia gap that exists in India,” said an official from Yahoo! India.

Europe-headquartered semiconductor firm STMicroelectronics last year had sponsored five students through its education programmes that fund up to 80% of an employee’s course. This year, the company has already received three applications. It has also set up research labs in BITS-Pilani, Delhi Technological University (DTU), IIT-Delhi, IISc- Bangalore among others. In addition, it sponsors PhDs in various institutes for research in its areas of interest. Synopsys, a US-based products company sponsors labs in IIT-Kharagpur and plans to tie-up with more. “We have set up research labs in BITS Pilani, DTU, IIT, Delhi, and IISc. Besides that, we sponsor PhDs in various institutes for research in our areas of interest and we also encourage our employees to pursue PhDs from institutions we have tied up with,” said STMicroelectronics regional vice-president (India operation) Vivek Sharma. “The employee continues getting his salary and works with us for the duration of his or her study.”

While there is a National Electronics Policy that aims to create 2,500 PhDs by 2020, the Indian Semi-conductor Association (ISA) has a programme to fund over 100 doctorate students. “We had proposed a scheme wherein all ISA members would take it upon themselves to sponsor a certain number of PhDs in the country. The aim was to have at least 100 PhDs sponsored by ISA members. However, work on that has been slow,” said Synopsys managing director and former ISA chairman Pradip K Dutta. “Quite frankly, it is more essential now than ever as India cannot afford to stay behind in hi-tech design and stagnate without moving to the next level. There are no visionaries being created here and companies are left to try and bring back the many Indian PhDs from the Silicon Valley,” Dutta added.

Source: The Financial Express, April 10, 2012

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