Ambassadors’ Round Table at Mount Scopus

Hebrew University asks foreign diplomats to help promote academic cooperation.

Hebrew U. President Ben-Sasson, Thai Ambassador Phoisaro 390 (photo credit: Flash 90)
Hebrew U. President Ben-Sasson, Thai Ambassador Phoisaro 390
(photo credit: Flash 90)
The Hebrew University in Jerusalem is reaching out to diplomatic missions in Israel with the aim of convincing their representatives to persuade universities in their home countries to enter into research projects and student exchange programs with the university.
Although diplomats frequently attend lectures and seminars at the university, and sometimes participate as speakers, such as on Sunday, when Liang-Jen Chang, the Taipei economic and cultural representative, will present his perspectives on Taiwan in 2012, there are relatively few events specifically geared to diplomats.
There was an exception on Monday, when the Hebrew University in coordination with the Ambassadors Club hosted an Ambassadors’ Round Table at the university’s Mount Scopus campus, to explain why this facility of higher education is among the top 60 universities in the world, and how it would benefit other countries to send their students and their researchers to the university.
Among those attending were ambassadors, consuls and attachés from the embassies of Ethiopia, Kenya, Sri Lanka, Slovakia, Costa Rica, Thailand, Angola and France, as well as the director of the American Center in Jerusalem, and Yitzhak Eldan, founding president of the Ambassadors’ Club and former chief of protocol at the Foreign Ministry.
In his welcoming address, HU President Prof. Menachem Ben-Sasson told his guests that they were sitting in an historic place, meters away from where the cornerstone of the university had been laid in 1918, a year after the British conquest of the region.
The university was the beginning of the State of Israel, Ben- Sasson said.
“If we talk of the State of Israel as a start-up nation, we can talk of the Hebrew University as the start-up of the startup nation,” he added.
In 1948, during the War of Independence and for 19 years afterward, the university became an island, in that the Jordanians recognized that the land on which it stood was Israeli territory. But it was inaccessible and for 10 years the university was scattered in rented premises in different parts of Jerusalem until construction of the campus in Givat Ram in 1958. Following the Six Day War in 1967, the Mount Scopus campus was revitalized.
“This part of Jerusalem is beyond dispute,” Ben-Sasson said, boasting that leaders of the Palestinian Authority had been there as well as the ambassadors of Egypt and Jordan.
A third Jerusalem campus, the medical campus adjacent to Hadassah Medical Center, is located in Beit Hakerem.
Another campus in Rehovot, near the Weizmann Institute of Science, is home to the country’s only Faculty of Agriculture and sole veterinary school.
There is also a Marine Biology Institute in Eilat that the Hebrew University shares with other universities.
Classifying the Hebrew University as “the mother university,” Ben-Sasson said that for many years it was the only university in Israel, and was subsequently the mother to Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and the University of Haifa.
Although the university has gone through many changes, he said, its mission was still the same as that decreed by its founders Albert Einstein, Martin Buber and Chaim Weizmann.
First and foremost it is a research university specializing not only in basic sciences but also in applied sciences.
Vice Rector Prof. Yaacov Schul emphasized the importance of linking faculty members from different universities to strengthen joint research. “If they don’t work together, research will become mediocre,” he warned. He also stressed the importance of students learning to live in a global community through student exchange programs.
The Hebrew University offers a large number of courses in English, Schul said, and will even switch to English for the sake of those students who don’t understand Hebrew. The university also has a support system to help foreign students to feel at home in an alien culture.
There are some 2,500 foreign students out of a total student population of 22,500 at the university, but the powers that be would like to see many more students from abroad.
Prof. Shy Arkin, vice president for research and development, was proud that over the past decade, seven Hebrew University graduates have been Nobel Prize laureates.
He was also proud that the HU is one of the top five universities in Europe, receiving generous grants from the European Research Council whose main goal is to encourage high quality research through competitive funding.
Most funding for research comes from outside Israel, said Arkin, adding that 4,500 research projects are taking place at the HU.
Even though Israel is isolated geo-politically, he said, there is a very strong scientific cooperation between Israel and other countries, including some of those in the region. “Science is the best pathway to peace because it is the only universal language,” said Arkin.
Yissum, the HU’s research development company that works closely with industry, was established 47 years ago, long before similar models at Cornell, Harvard, Cambridge and Oxford, said Arkin, boasting that Yissum has 7,077 patents and is ranked 12th in the world for patents that are sold.
Cherry tomatoes, which didn’t exist 20 years ago, and have become a delicacy on tables around the world, were invented by Nahum Kedar and Chaim Rabinovich from the HU’s School of Agriculture, said Arkin, who produced a long list of inventions, some in the field of medicine, some in computer sciences and some in other areas such as criminology.
The majority of Supreme Court justices are graduates of the Hebrew University, Arkin added.
Costa Rican Ambassador Rodrigo Carreras was happy to report that 14 Costa Rican doctors are currently studying at the Hebrew University Hadassah School of Medicine; another Costa Rican is studying music, another computers and yet another is due to begin studying political science.