The Jerusalem-based Shalem Center think tank got a step closer to realizing its dream of establishing Israel’s first liberal arts college, thanks to a $12.5 million grant from the Tikva Fund, the center announced on Tuesday.

The grant, which will be spread out over the first four years of the college’s operation, puts the college more than halfway towards its goal of raising $70m.

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Currently, the college is going through the multi-year accreditation process with the Council of Higher Education, and is on track to open in fall 2012.

“This is a major vote of confidence by a leading foundation which has been long supportive of innovative initiatives in higher education,” Martin Kramer, Shalem Center president- designate, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday in a phone call from the US, where he is on a month-long lecture and fundraising tour.

Robert Hertog, a major New York Jewish philanthropist, is the chairman of the Tikvah Fund, which has supported the Shalem Center for over a decade.

“We try to invest in the people who are conceiving the best ideas, in the institutions that are transmitting them, and in the young minds that are receiving them,” Hertog said in a statement announcing the grant.

The Shalem Center envisions an American-style liberal arts college in Jerusalem for students with expertise in a specific field but who lack a broader understanding of concepts, said Kramer, who was a professor at Tel Aviv University for more than 25 years.

“People understand that Israeli universities are too narrowly educating their students, and that it doesn’t prepare them for all challenges they will face as leaders,” Kramer said. “The workforce today demands flexibility and a range of courses.”

The Shalem College plans to offer a core curriculum, meaning in a four-year degree, 50 percent of the classes will be taken by all of the students. It plans to offer general studies in economics, sciences, history and Islamic studies, among other subjects, and provide a wide range of classes that encourage students to think critically and use tools from a variety of disciplines.

The private college will be totally dependent on private donations and tuition, and will not ask the state for the per-student allotment given to other institutions of higher learning. The college hopes to have 50 to 100 students per class in the first few years, eventually expanding to 1,000 students. Tuition will be on-par with other private colleges, said Kramer, which range from NIS 10,000 to 30,000 per year.

Though many consider Shalem Center a right-wing institution, Kramer bristles at the classification and insists that the center will “encourage diversity of thought.”

The Shalem Center also received a commitment from Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to create a campus on the site of the Nature Museum in the German Colony neighborhood, Kramer said.

The school will operate for at least the first few years in the Shalem Center building, which is also located in the German Colony.

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