Michigan and Heriot-Watt universities are working together in a bid to set up a Scottish centre of engineering excellence at the redundant Rosyth naval base on the Firth of Forth.
Senior staff have met to discuss an academic partnership including Rosyth Europarc, the Scottish executive and the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency to create a centre offering continuing engineering education and technology transfer.
Henry McLeish, Scotland's minister for enterprise and lifelong learning, said Michigan's world-renowned college of engineering gave engineers not only technical skills, but also business and entrepreneurial skills.
James Bean, associate dean for graduate education at the Michigan college, said that training students for both management and engineering had proved a key attraction for the Scots. "What they've heard from their customers is that this is what industry wants," he said.
Ed Borbely, director of the college's centre for professional development, said that although European institutions had experience in distance learning, they had not dealt much with the market-driven, short courses in which Michigan excelled. "We respond directly to what industry needs for its people to be more effective, productive and competitive."
Michigan's college of engineering offers 40 to 50 short courses each year and has trained more than 100,000 professional engineers. It uses the internet to allow students all over the world to watch and listen to a lecture while reading supporting material and being able to ask the lecturer questions.
Its two-way video-conferencing system provides real-time links with up to seven remote locations at once.
Heriot-Watt said this week it could bring distinctive strengths to the partnership, such as expertise in oil and gas and offshore engineering. It also runs the world's largest distance-learning MBA programme, with 9,000 students in 120 countries.