Making friends worldwide – the Technion way

Scientific research nowadays is based on international collaboration and no university can continue to push the frontiers of science on its own without a worldwide network of collaborations.

The Technion (photo credit: Courtesy)
The Technion
(photo credit: Courtesy)
A lot has been written and said in recent months concerning the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) phenomenon – a global movement that has singled out Israel as the world’s worst villain and takes various measures to delegitimize it, with a specific focus on isolating and hurting its academic institutions. Motivated in part by pure anti-Semitism as well as by extreme Islamist ideology, BDS employs a well-oiled propaganda machine that is often based on outright libel and demonic lies aimed at portraying the situation in Israel and its neighboring areas in just two colors – black and white – with the Israeli side being completely smeared in black.
Some Israelis and Israel supporters abroad have become quite concerned, believing that the BDS movement is gaining momentum, that its impact is already felt and that the worst is still to come. Others adopt a rather complacent approach, stating that BDS has so far failed to inflict any serious damage on Israel and hence there is nothing to worry about regarding its future moves.
We at Technion-Israel Institution of Technology do not subscribe to either of these approaches. While we are happy to note that indeed no real harm has been detected so far, we are very much aware of the pressing need to combat BDS in general and particularly the threat is poses to our university and other academic institutions in Israel. Scientific research nowadays is based on international collaboration and no university, no matter how strong it is, can continue to push the frontiers of science on its own without a worldwide network of collaborations with other leading academic institutions. Israeli academia is no different – we need the world and, frankly, the world needs us, even if it does not always say it in so many words.
To address this need, the Technion has taken a strategic decision – rather than confront the BDSers in platforms of their choice and play the game according to rules they are trying to dictate, our policy is to ignore them and define our own ground rules. Instead of arguing with these people, we have developed a proactive globalization policy that seeks to build bridges of goodwill and mutual benefit that serve as solid proofs of the fallacy and distortion in the BDS arguments. In less than a decade, we have signed more than 200 agreements with leading academic and research institutions as well as research divisions in large multinational corporations worldwide. Based on our experience in recent years, I believe I can safely say that Technion has come up with an effective method to overcome the threats of boycott and isolation, while advancing our own academic and scientific goals.
When evaluating potential international partnerships, we always follow a very simple principle: ensuring that the proposed partnership is mutually beneficial to all parties involved. Once it is established that there is real value added to both parties, not just to Technion, the road is paved toward the creation of a true and long-lasting partnership among equals.
The Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute (JTCI), our partnership with Cornell University to create a new applied science educational institution in the heart of New York City, is a great example of this principle.
The Guangdong Technion Israel Institute of Technology (GTIIT), the first-of-its-kind branch of an Israeli university to be built overseas, is another.
The spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation of the Technion, and its world-renowned expertise in several areas of technology, brought tremendous benefits to our joint venture with Cornell. Similarly, the Technion’s model of how to run a modern research university, including all aspects of education, research, ethics and commercialization of technology were highly appreciated by our Chinese partners in Guangdong.
The Chinese authorities view GTIIT as a potential role model for many other universities that will adopt its practices and gain higher and higher recognition and visibility in the global academic scene.
Another important component that characterizes some of the more successful partnerships is that they are not limited only to the academic institutions themselves, but expand to include the ecosystems surrounding them – companies, the public, government agencies and more.
Such was the case recently when a business delegation, led by the French Economy, Industry and Digital Affairs minister, Emmanuel Macron, visited us in Haifa for the signing of an agreement between École Polytechnique and the Technion to further promote the cooperation between the startup accelerators of both institutions. This followed the 2013 visit by French President Francois Hollande, in which the Technion and École Polytechnique signed their first agreement on exchange of faculty and students and promoting joint research.
As a backdrop to both visits, the Technion was able to convince some major French companies to conduct joint long-term research with Technion researchers.
They and many others come here for one reason and one reason alone: because they see the added value that serves their own objectives. It isn’t Zionism, nor is it a sudden attraction to the Holy Land (although once here many of them do fall in love with it). It’s just good business. On our part, this is our contribution to strengthening Israel’s international status as well as building our own capacity as a global powerhouse of science and technology.
The author is the vice president for external relations and resource development of the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology.