MADISON — Roughly a year since Foxconn Technology Group pledged $100 million to help fund a new UW-Madison engineering building and company-related research, the university said it has received $700,000, less than 1% of the original commitment.
Foxconn’s partnerships with University of Wisconsin System campuses have seen mixed success so far.
A UW-Milwaukee program drew more student participation in its first year than originally announced and Foxconn launched the second year of its “Smart Cities-Smart Futures” manufacturing competition Monday. Last year’s competition yielded 325 submissions from students, faculty, and staff from campuses across the state.
But developments appear to be progressing slowly at the flagship campus. Some UW-Madison officials visited company locations in Asia last spring, but a System-wide trip to Foxconn sites was postponed last fall and has yet to be rescheduled.
Citing changes in Foxconn’s executive leadership and business priorities, UW-Madison spokesman John Lucas described “no significant progress in discussions” relating to the $100 million investment initially heralded as “the largest research partnership in the university’s history.”
Foxconn announced last week that Louis Woo, who has often represented the company in Wisconsin and served as a special assistant to Foxconn founder Terry Gou, stepped down for personal reasons. Earlier this year Gou resigned as Foxconn chairman to pursue political office.
Foxconn’s master agreement with UW-Madison does not outline how much it plans to provide the university over the five-year period the agreement is in place. In fact, the 12-page document does not even mention a $100 million figure, but notes the company “intends to make a substantial investment in research and other activities” with UW-Madison.
“UW-Madison is hopeful that discussions will move forward in the coming months,” Lucas said in a university statement to the Wisconsin State Journal, adding that the $700,000 has gone toward a sponsored engineering research project.
Foxconn’s $100 million is to come in the form of a matching gift requiring UW-Madison to raise an equal amount of money.
Lucas said fundraising for engineering, computer and data science, and health remains a “top priority” but said the university has not formally launched a matching initiative or fundraising sub-campaign for the Foxconn partnership because discussions with the company are ongoing.
The Taiwanese electronics company declined to say how much it has invested in UW-Madison to date.
Foxconn also did not respond to a question on the interdisciplinary institute UW-Madison and the company will share near the Racine-based manufacturing campus. The facility is intended to open by 2020 with a minimum of 100 researchers, some of whom may be paid by the university, according to the company’s agreement with UW-Madison.
The company said in a statement that it remains committed to engineering and research at UW-Madison and will continue to “develop the demonstration projects and the strategic plans to collaboratively formulate the interdisciplinary research and education” for students and faculty.
UW-Milwaukee launched a study abroad internship program sending engineering students to Taiwan where they studied language and culture at a local university for several weeks and then spent three months working at a Foxconn facility.
UWM officials said in 2018 that five students would participate in the 2018-19 school year.
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“But then Foxconn realized they need to expand their talent pipeline pool and asked us to expand to 15 (students),” said David Yu, UWM’s faculty lead for the Foxconn internship.
The school identified a dozen interested students who were available to spend the spring 2019 semester abroad.
Yu said two of the students were seniors who received job offers from Foxconn. The company is interested in developing an in-state internship to keep the other students, who were sophomores and juniors during their time in Taiwan, engaged in their work.
UWM and Foxconn may expand the number of students participating and increase the length of the internship this year, Yu said, adding that Foxconn wants to expand the study abroad opportunity to other UW engineering schools.
“Not only is it going to continue, it looks like it’s going to be expanded until the local facility is up and running 100 percent,” he said.
Then students will intern at the Wisconsin campus instead of abroad, he said.
Asia trip postponed
Leaders at three UW campuses and others within the System planned to visit company locations in Shenzhen, China, and Sakai, Japan, in the fall of 2018, according to an email obtained by the State Journal in response to a public records request.
But interim UW System vice president for university relations David Brukardt asked Alan Yeung, Foxconn’s director of U.S. strategic initiatives, to postpone the trip because of scheduling conflicts and the desire to extend the invite to additional groups, such as UW-Madison’s patent-licensing arm.
Brukardt wrote in a follow-up email to System and campus officials that the intent was to identify a new travel date, which could be as early as November 2018.
The trip hasn’t happened and also has not been rescheduled, though discussions are ongoing, System spokesman Mark Pitsch said. He did not elaborate on why.
Foxconn did not respond to a question on why the System’s trip to Asia hasn’t been rescheduled.
According to emails, those tentatively interested in traveling to Asia included: Brukardt, then-Board of Regent president John Behling or a representative, UW-Parkside Chancellor Deborah Ford, UW-Madison vice chancellor for university relations Charles Hoslet or a representative, UW-Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone and Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. business liaison Jela Trask.
UW-Madison officials, including Hoslet and College of Engineering Dean Ian Robertson, visited Foxconn staff in Shenzhen last May on a separate trip from the one planned with System leaders, Lucas said. The trip’s broad purpose was to connect with several Chinese institutions, not solely to visit Foxconn.