- The University of Wisconsin-Madison just received one of its largest gifts ever — a $100 million investment from Taiwanese electronics maker Foxconn to support engineering and innovation research, the Chicago Tribune reported. UW-Madison must match the investment with its own fundraising "to be assured of the full $100 million from Foxconn," a university representative told Education Dive in an email.
- The agreement calls for the creation of an interdisciplinary research initiative, The Foxconn Institute for Research in Science and Technology (FIRST), which will be based 100 miles away in Racine, Wisconsin — the future home of Foxconn’s $10 billion LCD display plant.
- The state's low unemployment rate is challenging employers' ability to find qualified workers, and Foxconn’s needs are considerable, with up to 13,000 workers expected at the Racine facility. FIRST will give the company access to potential employees, as well as research support.
The combined $200 million is part of the university's ongoing $3.2 billion All Ways Forward fundraising campaign. Foxconn's funding will primarily support a new building for the College of Engineering on the UW-Madison campus, while any facilities related to the FIRST initiative are still to be determined, the representative said, noting that "there is no predetermined list" of university departments that will have access to the interdisciplinary program. Foxconn's contributions will also help provide opportunities for internships and applied learning in campus labs.
UW-Madison's promised $100 million contribution to the Foxconn deal is unusual at a time when state funds are shrinking and colleges are struggling to find other revenue sources to support programs across campus. And it suggests that tech will continue to be a strong driver of private investment as universities recognize the need to compete but require financial assistance to invest in the required systems and infrastructure.
Last year, MIT announced that IBM planned to invest $240 million in AI research over 10 years. Similar to the UW–Foxconn agreement, the MIT–IBM collaboration includes the creation of a research lab, the MIT–IBM Watson AI Lab, which will serve researchers at the company and the university. Support for internships and the use of new technology are goals of other similar programs designed to give the sponsoring company access to a larger pool of potential employees.
Growing reliance on private donations can be a double-edged sword for institutions, however. The Washington Post notes that accepting private dollars has caused some higher ed leaders to soften their stance on issues affecting the campus or the country.