Bruce Babbitt, Arizona's Democratic governor, happily admits that he interfered in the academic affairs of Arizona State University.

Arizona's growing high-technology industries need engineers, Babbitt said in an interview, and ASU wasn't turning them out. So, Babbitt said, he and the Republican-controlled legislature virtually ordered ASU to enlarge its engineering faculty and give high priority to the training of engineers and computer scientists.

As a result, ASU is developing a $32 million "Center for Excellence in Engineering" that represents a partnership of the state government, the university and private industry. Major electronic and high-technology employers such as Motorola are providing $9 million of the center's funding, enabling ASU to add 60 positions to its engineering faculty, increase teaching salaries and expand graduate and undergraduate enrollments.

A few years ago, any program in which a major university accepted money, personnel and technical assistance from industries that are heavily involved in defense-related work would have touched off campus protests, but now several major schools have set up similar partnerships. Stanford, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Carnegie-Mellon and North Carolina are among the universities that are working with industry to develop or expand their technical education facilities.

In a recent report on the acute nationwide shortage of electronics engineers and computer scientists, the American Electronics Association said it is "no longer true" that "Vietnam's antitechnology legacy" was discouraging students from seeking engineering careers. According to the AEA, the number of potential engineering students far exceeds the number of places available in engineering schools and the number of engineering teachers, and the gap is widening.

To Babbitt, that represents opportunity for Arizona. Like most state and local political leaders, he loves high technology and research and development industries--they pay well, raise community educational standards, and generally don't pollute the surrounding air and water. Arizona's economic growth will always be limited by water supplies, and the research and high-tech facilities the state is courting offer hope of growth without excessive water demand.

Babbitt said Arizona "has the third-largest concentration of these industries in the country" after the Boston area and California's Silicon Valley. High-technology industries such as Sperry Flight Systems, Honeywell Inc. and Hughes Aircraft Co. already account for 38 percent of Arizona's manufacturing employment, and Babbitt, seeking to encourage the trend, asked the industries what resources they needed.

"In the old days, industries went where there was water or a river port or proximity to raw materials," he said. "Now they go where they can keep their people happy, and their first concern in education is their own employes. They demand hot-shot engineering education," the commodity provided in Massachusetts by MIT and Harvard and in the so-called Silicon Valley of San Jose, Calif., by Stanford.

At ASU, he said, "We found that engineering was not a high priority, and we straightened that out real fast. We told the university, 'If you want support in the legislature, you do it.' It was a political move. We developed a program, and we imposed it on the university. I'm not the least bit apologetic," he said, because "the university is there to serve the people of this state."

C. Roland Hayden, dean of the ASU engineering school, said the impetus for the academic-industrial partnership came from the university, which invited industry executives to analyze the ASU engineering program. "We wanted to let them look at our program and say where we needed to go, and at the same time to utilize that group of people, financially and politically, to help convince people in government and the state legislature that this was important. Fortunately, when we went down with a group to persuade Babbitt, we found that he didn't need persuading."

Hayden said local industries such as Garrett Turbine, Motorola, Honeywell and Sperry Flight Systems are among the contributors to the Center for Excellence. He said that with the $32 million, the university is adding faculty, raising salaries, increasing enrollment and building a $13 million engineering research center.

The companies benefit by having an increased supply of well-trained engineers available for local recruiting and by having access to retraining programs for older engineers, he said.

A similar program is being developed at Stanford, where such high-tech giants as Texas Instruments, Hewlett-Packard, Xerox and Fairchild Camera are sponsoring the development of a $12 million "Center for Integrated Systems." The Stanford facility receives no state funds but is competing for Defense Department research contracts. At Carnegie-Mellon in Pittsburgh, Westinghouse, Digital Equipment and the Office of Naval Research are sponsoring a Robotics Institute, and 10 other corporations are supporting robotics research.

The aid to educational institutions is not altruism on the part of the high-tech corporations. They are in effect trying to increase the supply of the human raw material that they need and have been increasingly unable to get.

When Raymond Kassar, head of the Atari game and computer division of Warner Communications, said in a recent interview that his firm's expansion was limited only by the shortage of electronic engineers, he was describing an industry-wide phenomenon.

According to the American Electronics Association, "Just to meet the needs of electronics, education must triple its output of electrical engineering and computer science engineers in the next five years." An AEA committee headed by former under secretary of Defense William J. Perry, now a partner in the San Francisco investment house of Hambrecht and Quist, said that while the number of bachelor's degrees in electrical engineering awarded annually by U.S. colleges has risen from 11,291 in in 1970 to 13,594 in 1980, the demand is growing at a far greater rate as the electronics industry expands.

The committee, which included business executives and university professors and officials, concluded that "it is no longer an open question whether the shortage of electrical engineers in the United States is or is not a crisis. It is. Sooner or later, every U.S. industry dependent upon electrical engineering will be affected--and there are more such industries now than ever."

One major problem the committee found was a shortage of engineering faculty. With entry-level industry salaries for holders of bachelors' degrees higher than those of teachers with doctorates, and with many universities saddled with outdated laboratory facilities, industry itself is attracting "students who might formerly have chosen graduate study and even teaching careers," the committee said.

The study prompted the AEA to establish a National Engineering Education Foundation. Its director, Pat Hill Hubbard, described it as "almost a grass-roots movement from companies that are having severe problems in finding engineers."

She said the industries that make up the AEA's membership have become aware that "government is not going to have much involvement in engineering education, so we have a sense of urgency. We have to move quickly to do something . . . we have to stimulate a flow of money. We are really trying to establish links and relationships between company and university that will be long-term."

The association has set a goal of 2 percent of each member firm's annual research budget to be contributed to universities for supplementing faculty salaries and developing research facilities, Hubbard said.

The Perry report cited the ASU program as an example of constructive solutions to the engineer shortage. According to Dean Hayden, the money already has enabled ASU to raise engineering salaries to the point that "we are attracting new faculty, including some out of industry."