Transform Colleges in Manipur into Innovation Centres

Shanjoy Mairembam *

Transform Colleges in Manipur into Innovation Centres

Among various measures, the idea of transforming 'local colleges' in Manipur into 'Innovation Centres' may be the most effective approach to fuel rapid socio-economic growth of 'people and place' across towns of Manipur in 5-10 years timeframe through facilitating collective participation of local people. A strong reasoning behind the idea is the possibility of utilising strategically located college campuses (of approximately 88 colleges) scattered across the geography of Manipur state in various towns as an open platform for 'Community and Business Engagement' among industry professionals (who are natives of the nearby locality but living outside Manipur in various cities of India and abroad), academics and students of the respective colleges, local NGOs and government officials nearby the colleges.

College campuses maybe considered as 'Knowledge Zones' or a place where ideas and locally applicable innovations can be freely exchanged without fear in a 'non-bureaucratic and non-corporate' work-environment. Measures related to improving academic (teaching & learning) environment of the local colleges have been kept aside for another article. This article intends to present new measures of maximizing utilization percentage of currently available infrastructure (i.e. classrooms and estates) and (teaching and non-teaching) staffs at colleges in Manipur for an add-on impact to local people around the colleges socio-economically, with less/minimum impact on the delivery of ongoing academic schedules.

It is a well-known fact that most colleges in Manipur in the past decade don't conduct academic classes regularly and have also a very low number of students. College infrastructures (including services of staffs) seemed highly under-utilized with unclear benefits to the local economy and irregular usage of college facilities caused equipment/buildings to deteriorate quickly due to poor supervision.

In such scenario, the question does arises - what purpose does our colleges in Manipur serve to the local economy and social wellbeing, apart from the fact that these colleges provide employment to few staffs and higher education to a tiny number of local teenagers with negligible scope of getting a job or a bright career opportunity on their graduation. Without a doubt, colleges in Manipur may be comparable to 'white elephants' to the economy of Manipur under the current socio-economic scenario. Then, the next reasonable question arises - 'how can we increase the benefits and good impact of having a college campus in our local community and nearby town'.

The intent to impart higher education to young students of Manipur through local colleges may be combined with the vision of state government to bring about socio-economic development of local towns. For realising this expectation, the state government would need to create a dedicated job position of KE (Knowledge Exchange) professional at each college (through an initial funding from state govt budget or one time financial assistance from central government).

The key responsibilities of the KE professional may include
(1) creation of external income earning capacity of the college through efficient utilisation of college infrastructure,
(2) realisation of 'brain gain' to local towns around the college campus by inviting Manipuri professionals (from the nearby towns but living outside Manipur state or abroad) for KE activities and enabling effective engagement with the local community through hosting academic and business events, and
(3) building strong relationship with global funders and corpoate firms to bring in external incomes (such as sponsorships and partnerships) within the predefined knowledge domains of the college.

Management of KE activities are best assigned to KE professionals (as full-time job role) rather than being considered as add-on role to the current responsibilities of academic staffs in colleges. The aim of such approach is to make the entire process sustainable in due course of time so that expenses of KE professional and relevant KE activities can be paid out of the income earned through commercial exploitation of resources at the college campuses.

In case, the state government is keen to explore feasibility of such proposal as mentioned above and in rest of this article, it should consider hiring KE/innovation consultants to structure an implementable plan that suits the local scenarios of Manipur. Such similar approaches are already implemented in various developed countries such as UK, wherein local municipal council and various government departments work in coordination with higher education institutions to rejuvinate socio-economic growth of the local towns. This impact of having a college/university in a town is in addition to providing employment to few academic and support staffs, and giving graduate education to the local youths.

State government may consider utilising part of college campuses to engage local SMEs and Self-Help-Groups for delivery of local enterprise support services (i.e. fund access and professional advice) by having 'host-desk information offices' representing the officials from Sub-Divisional office (SDO/SDC) or District Collector (DC/DM) office. Such an approach would bring accessibility of business support services and funding opportunities closer to the target audiences of local entrepreneurs and future graduate entrepreneurs at the college campuses. Such host-desk information offices attached to the college campuses may help transforming the college to be a vibrant environment filled with local people and industry professionals. This transformation will provide psychological boost to the thought process of students to aspire being a budding entrepreneur in the local town.

Academically relevant external projects (funded by government or various funding organisations) and socio-economically relevant services (such as training courses for local SMEs and not-for-profit organisations) can be planned for delivery at the college campuses to increase presence of local community in the college campus. Management of such operations are to be conducted by delegating the activities to a KE professional under a clear strategy, so that in course of time, the income earned through the external oriented services can meet the operational expenses (incl. salary of the KE professional).

Various assets of the college campus such as swimming pool, playgound, library, café, labs, classrooms, auditoriums may be let out during weekends and out of working hours slots in order to generate revenue income for the college. Academic staffs of the college may also contribute appropriately to the planned KE activities based on their personal interest as well as academic interest. The budget management (both income earning and expense planning) of the KE activities must be with the KE professional in order to assign proper accountability of the funds.

Conducting socio-cultural events by local NGOs ought to be encouraged at the college campus, so that vibrant environment of the college campus can be maintained due to visit of external audiences. Moreover, catering and other trade items can be sold while hosting local events within the college campuses. Organising trade and technology events through the KE professional can also infuse innovative ideas for discussion among the students and academics of the college.

A dedicated knowledge exchange web-portal may be created to ease info sharing to various stakeholders (i.e. government departments, industry professionals, students, academics, local NGOs and municipal councils) in order to help successful delivery of the overal KE strategy at various college campuses in Manipur. The web-portal may include basic and advanced training materials for facilitating knowledge exchange related services by KE professionals and also relevant resources for external customers accessible through payment of appropriate service fees.

Having a clear KE strategy can help motivating college staffs to participate in KE activities conducted at their college campuses. KE events will attract students to college campuses for learning real world knowledge in addition to attending academic classes in for their degree courses. Moreover, such an approach will enable creation of an ecosystem for local innovation at the college campuses (instead of leaving college campuses defunct and under-utilised).

Capacity building of local human capital is one of the most essential ingredients of enabling socio-economic development of a state. Making Manipur a prosperous socio-economically developed state is the dream of many youths and senior citizens of Manipur (incl. our 'self-proclaimed' politicians). Transforming colleges at various towns of Manipur can help in creating the necessary quantity and quality of capable human resources (across villages/towns) which Manipur desparately needs. This approach will also allow the state government to combine developmental intitiatives at various towns of Manipur with the intent to provide higher education facilities in those towns by allocating the annual budget efficiently.

* Shanjoy Mairembam wrote this article for
Shanjoy Mairembam (BEng, MBA, LLM) is an Innovation Consultant based at Leicester (UK). He supports mentoring of young entrepreneurs in 'conceptualization of ideas into business case', and offers role of a 'Business Doctor' to local NGOs/MSMEs in Manipur.
For further info, visit; E-mail: shanjoym (at) gmail (dot) com
This article was webcasted on January 09, 2018.

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