(Wikimedia Commons)

Times of Israel readers need no lesson on how Israel’s world-class universities are second-to-none in countless sectors. Virtually every day, a new story appears on this site detailing another discovery or revolutionary product on the part of Israeli researchers. In Israeli politics, often known for contentious debates on a range of issues, it is a virtual consensus across party lines that government must continue fostering and supporting the science, research, and academic sectors. An innovation policy grounded in risk-taking, collaboration across fields, and international cooperation will prove crucial to sustaining Israel’s economic success.

Most Canadians would be surprised to learn that so many life-changing and life-saving products stem from Israel. For Canada’s university sector, however, the story of Israel as “the Start Up Nation” is not a new one. Canada’s schools, also leaders in a range of fields, have long enjoyed strong ties with their counterparts in Israel. In addition to countless school-to-school partnerships and exchanges, the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (now Universities Canada) launched a formal agreement with Israel’s Association of University Heads in 2013 to expand these ties.

Home to two highly educated societies, Canada and Israel are natural partners in innovation and higher education.  Following a landmark report by an expert panel, Canada is currently reviewing how best to boost  support for fundamental research, with a focus on inclusion to offer greater opportunities to segments of society that haven’t traditionally been a part of the research sector. This is why it is fitting that a sizeable delegation of Canadian University Presidents recently took part in an intensive academic leader’s mission to Israel focused on inclusive innovation.

Led by Universities Canada (the organization that provides Canadian university presidents with a unified voice for higher education, research and innovation), the Embassy of Israel, and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), this was the largest-ever mission of university Presidents to Israel.

This historic mission – the third in a series of such trips – of eight Presidents from virtually every region of the country visited the Technion in Haifa, Ben Gurion University in Beersheva, Tel Aviv University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Weizmann Institute. Alongside meetings with their counterparts and Canada’s Ambassador to Israel Deborah Lyons, the Presidents learned about Israel’s efforts to include the Arab, Bedouin and Haredi populations in post-secondary education, the acceleration of entrepreneurship on campus, and Israel’s advances in Smart Cities.  “This mission was an important opportunity to deepen and broaden Canadian universities’ innovation partnerships in Israel”, noted Pari Johnston, vice president, policy and public affairs at Universities Canada. “The theme of inclusive innovation is a natural next step in our dialogue, one that will benefit both countries as we work to ensure no one is left behind as we invest in innovation, research and higher education.”

Like all nations, Canada faces cyber-security challenges. During this mission, the Canadian presidents visited the world’s leading cyber-security eco-system at the Advanced Technology Park in Beersheva.  The University of New Brunswick’s recent partnership with Cyber-Spark shows how Canadian universities can benefit by partnering with Israeli innovation and glean key insights on the mechanics of building international superclusters, an area in which the Government of Canada made significant investment in its last budget.

Also during their visit to Israel, the Canadian delegation built meaningful connections with Israeli researchers who are at the forefront of many of sectors that are defining the 21st Century. Canada and Israel alike have deep expertise and top research networks in areas like quantum computing, nanotechnology, cyber-security, food security, water technology, life sciences, medical devices, green energy, and international law and security.

Finally, as Canadian universities work to make higher education more inclusive, meetings at Haifa’s Technion University (where 20% of the student population is Arab) and with a Bedouin scholar at Ben Gurion University demonstrated that no geographical, social or economic barrier is insurmountable when it comes to accessing higher education.

Supporters of Israel can be proud that many of the world’s top thinkers are inspired by the Jewish state’s commitment to higher learning and innovation. The partnerships forged through strategic trips to Israel like these may not make headlines, but they certainly make a significant, long-term difference in strengthening Israel’s global ties. In a world growing smaller with each passing day, there is much to learn and share between Canadians and Israelis, for the benefit of both nations.