Israel in the Far East: The academic collaboration nation

In the Far East, Israel is becoming not only the start-up nation, but also the academic collaboration nation.

President Reuven Rivlin’s recent signing of a series of agreements between Israeli academic institutions and their Korean counterparts represents the latest frontier for Israel’s rising presence in that region.

This enhancement of Israel-Korea ties comes amid the already well-documented growth in Israel’s relationship with China, which has the world’s second-largest economy. While most discourse on Israel-China relations focuses on business and technology, educational partnerships are also a major component of these ties. Some notable examples of that trend include the $10 million investment by Chinese institutions and the University of Haifa to create artificial intelligence (AI) centers in Beijing, Hangzhou, and Haifa; the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology’s campus in Shantou, the scientific innovation partnership between Tel Aviv University and Tsinghua University, and more.

For academic institutions, this high-level collaboration is no accident. It’s a well-thought-out strategy for making a deep impact on industry and society at-large. Cutting-edge technologies like AI, image processing, big data, and biometric identification don’t fall out of the sky. More often than not, the research that’s conducted and the leaders who are cultivated on university campuses are what form the bedrock of the scientific innovations which change lives in the 21st century. And the power of academic collaboration is amplified even further when institutions partner on an international scale, sharing their respective nations’ best practices and ingenuity. This has long been the case for Israeli and Chinese institutions, and now Korean institutions are increasingly joining the fold of Israel’s educational partnerships in the Far East.

Among the new agreements signed by Rivlin during his visit to South Korea, University of Haifa is part of a student exchange agreement with Konkuk University, a framework for academic collaboration with Konkuk, and a framework for academic collaboration with Yonsei University. The latter agreement also includes cooperation between Yonsei and Carmel – Haifa University Economic Corporation Ltd., a wholly owned direct subsidiary of the University whose innovation fund provides seed funding to projects based on the University’s intellectual property. These new Far East partnerships will build off the success of University of Haifa’s existing joint campus with East China Normal University, an initiative which focuses on interdisciplinary studies in biomedicine, neuroscience, and environmental sciences.

“Embracing the spirit of academic collaboration with Far East universities reflects the commitments to globalism and diversity that are already built strongly into the DNA of University of Haifa,” says University of Haifa President Prof. Ron Robin, reflecting on how the University serves a greater number of recent immigrants than any of its peers in Israel and offers more than 20 international degree programs taught in English.

Some commentators have argued that amid the ongoing U.S. trade war with China, Israel must essentially “choose a side” between Washington and Beijing in that dispute as well as in the context of its economic relationships with both of those world powers. Others argue that Israel’s decision to permit a Chinese company to manage Haifa’s port starting in 2021 may test the American-Israeli alliance.

Yet this situation doesn’t need to be viewed as a zero-sum game. Israel’s global alliances continue to grow by leaps and bounds, including the Jewish state’s ties with China and the rest of the Far East. Given the historic strength and unconditional positivity of the U.S.-Israel relationship, Israel ultimately shouldn’t fear that its burgeoning ties with China would in any way jeopardize its alliance with America.

A similar mentality is particularly true when it comes to academia, a sector that values partnerships perhaps more than any other. Institutions of higher education collaborate with each other — particularly on an international level — because a rising ship lifts all boats; colleges and universities are usually able to put perceived “competition” aside. And when it comes to Israel and its Far East partners, academic collaboration serves the higher purpose of spurring innovation in cutting-edge fields.

As Rivlin aptly put it while he was in Korea, “For both South Korea and Israel, learning, education, and excellence are the highest goals. For both people, education lies at the heart of every family’s dream. For both people, education is the key for social and economic mobility. It is the power that drives forward not only individuals, but also the entire nation.”

About the Author
Karen L. Berman is CEO of the American Society of the University of Haifa.
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