Manufacturing Universities: The Next-Generation University-Industry Partnership

March 18, 2015

WASHINGTON – (March 18, 2015) In response to the introduction of the Manufacturing Universities Act of 2015 by U.S. Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Dr. Robert Atkinson, President of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), releases the following statement.

ITIF praises Senators Coons, Ayotte, and Gillibrand for introducing this important piece of legislation which will help transform university-industry relations, improve America’s innovation capacity, and ultimately spur significant economic and employment growth. A national system of manufacturing universities will incentivize institutions to focus more on the advanced manufacturing research and applications that are increasingly needed in the ‘New Economy.’ It will also produce graduates that are better equipped with the knowledge and skills needed for careers in emerging, innovation-based industries.

Designated universities would revamp their engineering programs with a focus on manufacturing engineering and curricula designed specifically for targeted industries. This would include: joint industry-university research projects; training of students that incorporates manufacturing experiences through co-ops or internships; and a focus on turning out more Ph.D. engineering grads who work in industry.

As ITIF noted in Cut to Invest: Support the Designation of 20 U.S. Manufacturing Universities, the manufacturing universities initiative addresses several systemic challenges that plague America’s manufacturing economy. For example, university engineering education has shifted away from a focus on real-world problem solving toward more abstract engineering science, putting the educational focus on producing pure knowledge instead of applied research that is useful to industry. In addition, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers contends that the number of unfilled manufacturing jobs—due to manufacturing employers being unable to find individuals with the skills they require—could be as high as 3 million in 2015.

This legislation could create a paradigm shift in the way universities interact with industry, creating a more symbiotic relationship that can produce the new technologies and employees that are necessary to succeed in the increasingly competitive and high tech manufacturing marketplace.