Creating a network of U.S. manufacturing universities would address several systemic challenges that plague America’s manufacturing economy.
First, in recent years, university engineering education has shifted away from a focus on real problem solving toward more abstract engineering science, leaving university engineering departments more concerned with producing pure knowledge than in working with industry to address their challenges.
One consequence of this has been that American universities attract far less industry funding per researcher than universities in competitor nations do. For example, The World Academic Summit Innovation Index finds that, of 30 nations, the United States ranks just 14th in attracting industry funding per university researcher, with Korean researchers receiving, on average, four times as much industry funding ($97,900) than their American peers ($25,800).
A second challenge has been that America’s high schools and universities have not been producing sufficient numbers of graduates with the skills manufacturing employers need. For instance, 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 increase to 3 million by 2015.
In short, the United States needs to forge stronger industry-university research collaborations and also incentivize universities to focus more on training students with the requisite skills to support U.S. engineering-based industries.