Creating a campus fit for the future

With access to information no longer limited to the boundaries of academic institutions, universities are among those most deeply impacted by the digital revolution.

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April 22, 2019 03:20
4 minute read.
Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats

Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, chairwoman of the Council for Higher Education's Planning and Budgeting Committee. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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The digital revolution has impacted every aspect of our lives, both as individuals and societies.

With access to information no longer limited to the boundaries of academic institutions, universities are among those most deeply impacted by the transformation.

Striving to adapt higher education to the challenges and opportunities presented by 21st century technology and the demands of millennials on campus, the Council for Higher Education (CHE) – the official authority for higher education in Israel – is aiming to create a learning environment fit for today and the future.

The flagship program of the CHE’s current six-year plan, covering the years 2017 to 2022, is the “New Campus” program, encouraging openness and entrepreneurship, removing barriers between staff and students, different disciplines, academia and industry.

Israeli universities should be striving to produce both Nobel Prize winners and Mobileye founders, with greater access to education for all sectors of Israeli society.

“The implementation of the ‘New Campus’ vision reflects a critical view of the entire system, including universities and colleges, and the understanding that alongside impressive achievements in research and teaching,” said Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, chairwoman of the CHE’s Planning and Budgeting Committee. “The system must deal with global changes in higher education and make necessary adjustments to the Israeli academic system.”

Digital learning is one of the foundations underpinning the New Campus project, encouraging innovative teaching that is accessible to all. Free online courses, including interactive presentations and videos, have been developed through the initiative, helping increase cross-societal access to educational material.

The State of Israel has also joined the international edX platform established by Harvard University and MIT, enabling local academic institutions to offer courses on the platform. The massive open online course (MOOC) provider currently features content from over 100 universities and other learning establishments.

Until recently, most academic institutions – even in the so-called Start-Up Nation – did not consider fostering entrepreneurship and innovation as part of their mission. Under the New Campus framework, however, the CHE is aiming to develop an entrepreneurial culture on campus by establishing centers of innovation and increasing academia-industry collaboration.

“We are only at the beginning of the process, but to our delight we are already seeing centers of entrepreneurship and innovation operating on campuses in cooperation with various industry entities to promote significant projects with an impact on society, the economy, health and more,” Zilbershats said. “These centers of innovation create a campus ecosystem adapted to the world of innovation, encouraging creativity and removing barriers between academia and industry.”

The establishment of TAU Ventures, an early-stage venture capital fund launched by Tel Aviv University, and the opening of degree courses at several institutions with an emphasis on innovation are early examples of the CHE’s efforts coming to fruition.

More than 9,000 first-year students are due to commence hi-tech degrees later this year, the CHE said this month, 6% higher than its multi-year forecast. It predicts more than 11,000 to commence hi-tech studies in 2022.


THE CHE is also encouraging universities to offer increasingly varied studying options. By enabling Law students, for example, to hi-tech fields of study, graduates will benefit from greater employment opportunities in the future.

“The future and developed campus must have students from all over the world,” Zilbershats said. “The international project that we are leading as part of the multi-year program is designed to create an infrastructure in higher education institutions to achieve this important goal.”

By developing programs in English and establishing infrastructure to attract and accommodate international students, the CHE aims to increase the number of students coming to study in Israel from abroad from approximately 11,000 in 2017 to 24,000 in 2022.

Last month, the CHE approved the establishment of 26 new international undergraduate and master’s courses in English in a push to attract outstanding students to study in Israeli institutions.

The establishment of the English-language courses, Zilbershats emphasized, does not come at the expense of Israeli students, with all courses also taught in Hebrew. The CHE hopes the internationalization of higher education will increase the level and competitiveness of Israeli academia and enhance the reputation of Israeli institutions abroad.

The development of cloud technology adds a further element to the CHE’s New Campus plans, enabling a transition to “open science,” a worldwide trend to make scientific research accessible to all.

The “open science” trend results from an understanding that data that may have little or no use to one researcher, but could be priceless to another. At the data processing and analysis stage, access is made available to innovative research methods and tools to be shared across disciplines.

At the publication stage, there is a transition to an open access, peer-reviewed approach that permits the distribution of research findings without expensive subscription fees.

Importantly for the CHE, the realization of its New Campus vision is not a one-way effort. While it possesses significant funds to advance initiatives, the CHE is in constant dialogue with institutions, both universities and colleges, on the ground.

“With the help of the CHE, institutions are implementing the vision and we are seeing early signs of success, but this is a two-way process,” Zilbershats said. “On one hand, the Planning and Budget Committee encourages institutions to promote the new campus but, on the other hand, many ideas come from the field, initiatives of students and institutions that see eye-to-eye with us on the issue.”

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