HIGH-TECH companies see the interconnection between academia and their business activities as essential for success. Firms seek to establish connections with academia since in the end they must usually complete the education of a newly-hired graduate and this costs time and money. Although all businesses need well-educated and skilful employees, the most insistent and frequent calls for better cooperation between business and academia have come from companies in which technology changes rapidly, for example from information technology (IT) and other high-tech firms.
The Slovak Spectator spoke with Martin Kohút, the managing director of NESS Slovakia, Marek Antal, the Central and Eastern Europe delivery officer at NESS KDC development centre in Košice, and Pavol Chovanec, director general of Schneider Electric Slovensko about their firms’ specific experiences in building better connections between academia and businesses.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): How do you perceive the interconnection between business and academia in Slovakia? Where do you see the biggest problems?
Martin Kohút (MK): The interconnection of business and academia is very important, especially in the area of technically-oriented schools. In such a dynamic sector such as IT this is twice as important. Technological development is moving forward in big strides but Slovakia’s education sector has not been able to keep pace with it. Money is missing, especially for practical education of students.
Thus, graduates come to the labour market with only partial practical knowledge and they are not ideally prepared for practical work. It is not only the responsibility of private companies to cooperate with educational institutions; it is also in their best interests. What students do not learn at school they must learn on the job and to ‘complete their studies’ with their employer and that costs money and time.
For companies it is important that schools prepare ‘complete’ experts ready to use their knowledge immediately. Thus, for Slovak schools, especially those that are technically-oriented, cooperation with IT companies is essential.
A common element in the IT sector not only in Slovakia but also abroad is a lack of top-level employees. It is important to realise that if better experts graduate from our schools the market will profit more. And last but not least, the whole society benefits from this also.
TSS: What measures would improve the interconnection between businesses and academia in Slovakia?
MK: There are several important areas. In the dynamic world of IT it is important to keep students and also teachers in active contact with new technologies.
There should be more intensive cooperation in students’ education and in the development of teachers’ knowledge and participation by companies in creating study programmes, as well as educational stays at companies in which students have the chance to use their knowledge in practice. All these areas would certainly help.
Marek Antal (MA): Graduation theses, projects of various types, and also part-time jobs in some of the IT companies help students get better acquainted with the environment and practical work of IT companies. This gives students feedback and confronts them with the reality of the work. This can only help them in their next stage because in this way they will arrive from school better prepared for actual work. We are already providing such opportunities to students in a limited form but we would like to create many more such opportunities in the future.
TSS: Can you tell us about some specific mechanisms of cooperation between your company and universities? Which universities do you cooperate with?
MA: Our NESS KDC research and development centre in Košice cooperates with Technical University of Košice (TUKE) and with Pavol Jozef Šafárik University, also in Košice. We are involved in conceptual cooperation between companies and academia also via the cluster called IT Valley which bands together the most important employers in the IT sector. Our activities start with material help and reach up through education of university graduates for their better preparedness for practice.
Pavol Chovanec (PCH): Schneider Electric Slovakia actively cooperates with the Technical University of Košice and the Slovak University of Technology (STU) in Bratislava. At STU we have developed the Schneider Electric laboratory which serves as a training centre for undergraduate and post-graduate students as well as for our clients. We cooperate with lecturers from STU in the form of training sessions at which we educate them about our latest products, technical solutions and ongoing programmes.
We support students’ activities through various contests. In cooperation with the study organisation BEST our company organises a contest each year for the best bachelor’s work and the best graduation thesis for students from the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Informatics and the Faculty of Mechanical Engineering at TUKE.
We also support the Local Engineering competition in which students aim to create a working model based on an assignment which they receive right before the competition starts and they have only one day to prepare their model.
This year we have also supported students from STU participating in the so-called Green Team. Their assignment was to construct an electric-powered Formula One-like vehicle which they have entered into several international competitions.
Another form of cooperation is providing universities with our products which are used for
educational purposes. In this way students become acquainted with technological advances directly at school and that undoubtedly elevates the level of education.
TSS: What tangible results have come to your company from such cooperation?
MA: Results are visible in better language skills as well as more expert preparedness of arriving graduates. I think that the best indicator is that thanks to the attractive jobs offered in Bratislava and in Košice, Slovakia is managing to keep talented young people here. We are getting signals that also thanks to attractive job offers locally the outflow of talents to western Europe is slowly stopping.
Actually, top experts are returning to Slovakia and they are applying the know-how they have acquired in projects abroad and are spreading this among colleagues.
PCH: Our goal, apart from uplifting the general level of education in Slovakia, is to present the activities of Schneider Electric as an international specialist in energy management which contributes to setting trends in energy-use management globally. We perceive this need also on the part of universities which want to involve their students in practical applications and acquaint them with developments in modern products and solutions. We also have examples of students who attended our short-term educational stays who are now our employees.
TSS: What are your company’s further plans to better interconnect business and academia?
MA: From our point of view the interconnection of business and academia is the only long-term sustainable way that the IT business can operate in the future. This is why we will continue our cooperation with schools and develop it further. But interest from both sides is the precondition for further advancement. We are prepared to invest over the long term in further cooperation with universities.
PCH: Schneider Electric wants to further support Slovak universities and their students pursuing technical specialisations. Even though we see that interest in the study of technical specialisations has a downward trend in Slovakia we want to continue to be involved in competitions which support students’ creativity. We simultaneously plan to become more engaged in various presentations and lectures at universities.
22. Nov 2010 at 0:00 | Jana Liptáková