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UW System leaders testify in favor of Foxconn project

Leaders of the UW System spoke in favor of the Foxconn project last week, highlighting opportunities and making the case for greater state funding of tech-related educational programs.

UW System President Ray Cross, speaking at a public hearing for the Assembly Committee on Jobs and the Economy, said the benefits of the proposed plan would be “enormous,” especially for students.

He said the system is ready to leverage the Taiwanese company’s “extensive global partnerships to tap into additional federal and/or private funding to create more opportunities for our UW researchers.”

“Students will also benefit with expanded internship opportunities,” Cross said. “Foxconn has already expressed interest in developing this relationship with UW.”

Ian Robertson, the dean of UW-Madison’s College of Engineering, called the plan “an excellent opportunity” for placing students in internships and careers, as well as for research partnerships.

Cross proposed that the new plant would help push back on the workforce issues plaguing the state, helping keep more of the 36,000 students that graduate from the UW System each year.

“The potential job opportunities with -- or related to -- Foxconn could help keep these highly educated graduates in Wisconsin,” he said. “This is particularly important given our long-term demographic challenges.”

And Deborah Ford, chancellor for UW-Parkside, says opportunities to partner with Foxconn will bring the educational experience for students to “a new level.”

Mark Mone, chancellor for UW-Milwaukee, says the school pulls about 90 percent of its students from within Wisconsin.

“With Foxconn and the associated growth in suppliers and supporting businesses, the demand for students in engineering, information technology, computer science and business fields will grow, increasing our enrollments,” Mone said.

Another positive for UWM, Mone says, is that having Foxconn in Wisconsin would strengthen ties with Rockwell Automation, GE Healthcare, Brady Corporation and other major companies.

“We have longstanding partnerships with these firms and are immersed today in conversations about the need for additional student interns, employees, and research partnerships,” Mone added.

Robertson says the engineering college could enroll up to 600 more students if the state would fund extra faculty and staff.

“With Foxconn planning to be operational by 2020, we will need to act quickly to ensure there's enough engineering and other talent in the pipeline,” Robertson said.

He also spoke to the importance of collaboration between engineering and business colleges.

“We are increasingly hearing that they want those engineers to have some background in business… Indeed, Chancellor Blank heard this exact request from representatives from Foxconn when she met with them last month,” he said.

Robertson said he has had “preliminary conversations” with UW-Madison leadership about setting up a certificate program which would teach business skills to engineers, and vice-versa.

Read the full UW testimonies here:

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