Indian talent from abroad should be brought back: Sridhar Vembu, Chairman, Board of Governors, IIITDM

The Indian Institute of Information Technology Design and Manufacturing, Kancheepuram, (IIITDM) is an institute of national importance and is equal to IITs. Sridhar Vembu, who is the Chairman, Board of Governors (BoG), IIITDM said there is a need to attract good faculty and that talents who have migrated abroad have to be brought back. “A number of people who have gone abroad, we need to bring them back and hire them to teach. We need to set up cutting edge research projects,” said Vembu, who is the CEO of Zoho.

Today, the faculty-student ratio at IIITDM is 7-8, which is quite good. This means, the faculty can provide personalised attention and also take on many research projects. “This is how we can bring really good talent back to India. Our challenge is that a lot of talent have gone abroad. They need to be brought back. For that institutes like IIITDM are very vital,” said Vembu who took over as Chairman of the BoG on August 25.

When asked how can a small institute like IIITDM tries to rope in the talent even while bigger institutes like IITs and IISc are quite attractive, Vembu said that is a challenge as the competition is huge as they are also recruiting for the same talent pool. This is like any other recruitment challenge. Today, the quality of people determines the fate of the educational institutions but IIITDM has an advantage with companies like Zoho located nearby to collaborate. There are also companies coming up in Guduvanchery that can collaborate with IIITDM, he said.

On industry collaboration, Vembu said he would be looking at his own company Zoho or other companies near the institute to do R&D projects along with the institute’s students and faculty. This would be one of the key focus areas for the institute.

The government is increasing the R&D budget in every field. However, in India, the R&D spend as a percentage of the GDP is quite low and needs to be increased by nearly tenfold to match the spending by China, the US, European Union or Japan. This will happen over the next 10-15 years with institutes like the IIITDM and industry collaborating, he said.

Vembu in his speech at the institute’s 11th Convocation stressed on indigenisation of technology. None of the crucial technology is owned in India. “We may have factories that build products. However, factories do not mean we own the technology,” he said. For instance, in the textile industry, the critical machinery is either from Japan, Germany, Belgium or France. It is a similar situation in the auto industry at Oragadam. The crucial technology behind the mobile phones or computers is still in foreign countries while factories here manufacture them, he added.

Increasingly the value of production is not going to the factory or the workers but to the IP owners. For example, the market cap of top five global companies – Apple, Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Facebook – would be in excess of $7-$8 trillion. Their revenue alone would be $1.5 trillion and profits nearly $500 billion. The GDP of these five companies would be nearly 70 per cent of India’s GDP. Their profits will vastly exceed all of the profits made by all of India’s corporate sector put together. “That is technology power and financial power. That is the power that we need to gain back in our country. If we don’t gain it, these companies will go on to become the new East India Companies. Financial power is the pre-eminent power in the world today,” he said.

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