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Agreement sets up Quebec-Israel exchange program for women

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Maryse Lassonde, left, and Yossi Rosenwaks sign an agreement to create a female student exchange program. (Janice Arnold/The CJN)

Encouraging more women in Quebec and Israel to enter the traditionally male-dominated fields of engineering and computer science is the goal of a partnership agreement between Tel Aviv University (TAU) and the Quebec government agency that supports research in the fields.

At a gathering on April 23, a memorandum of understanding was signed between Yossi Rosenwaks, TAU’s dean of engineering, and Maryse Lassonde, the scientific director of the Fonds de recherche du Québec–Nature et technologies (FRQNT), at the agency’s headquarters.

It’s the first such agreement between an Israeli university and the agency, said Sharon Fraenkel, regional executive director of the Canadian Friends of Tel Aviv University (CFTAU).

Under the planned exchange program, female students from Quebec may apply to do an internship at TAU, while their Israeli counterparts can continue their education at any Quebec university with an engineering or computer science department.

“I am proud of this new agreement, which will help increase the participation of women in computer science and engineering, promoting greater gender equality in these cutting-edge areas,” said Lassonde.

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Rosenwaks added that, “TAU and the faculty of engineering have taken the strategic decision to increase the percentage of female students and faculty in its science and engineering disciplines.… I am sure that the exchange opportunities will widen the horizons of our faculty’s female students and give them an unprecedented opportunity to spend time in some elite Canadian institutes.”

At TAU, women represent half the enrolment in biomedical and industrial engineering at the undergraduate level, he said, but only about 20 per cent in mechanical and electrical engineering.

The partnership will last for up to four years, a decision that will be made based on the success of the first year. The internships are for periods of six to 12 months.

Both TAU and FRQNT agree to contribute up to $50,000 a year to fund internships for five to 10 students from Quebec and Israel.

The signing solidifies an announcement made by Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard when he visited TAU in May 2017, as part of a trade mission to Israel.

TAU and the faculty of engineering have taken the strategic decision to increase the percentage of female students and faculty in its science and engineering disciplines.
– Yossi Rosenwaks

“Today, we are marking a new step in the history of Quebec-Israel relations,” said Fraenkel. “This agreement underlines the importance of advancing talents in these important fields, as well as generating concrete benefits, both for Quebec and Israel.”

The signing was hailed by Liberal MNA David Birnbaum, who accompanied Couillard on the mission. Conveying a message from Dominique Anglade – the minister of economy, science and innovation – Birnbaum said the government recognizes that Israel is “a smart place to be” and welcomes further collaboration.

Quebec’s chief scientist, Rémi Quirion, who was also present at the signing, said he is pleased that Quebec students will be able to “experience Israel’s renowned scientific community first hand.”

He has been to Israel a dozen times, most frequently when he was involved in brain research at McGill University, and spent time at TAU’s medical school.

With a relatively small population of about eight million, roughly the same as the greater New York City or Shanghai areas, Quebec must engage in more international collaboration, he said.

CFTAU national president Barbara Seal, who has long supported scholarships for Canadian students to attend TAU, said she is proud that Quebec women will have the opportunity to study at one of the great universities in the world.

Also attending were Israeli Consul General David Levy and Eta Yudin, Quebec vice-president of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, which initiated the first meeting with Anglade, and whose guidance over the past year helped bring this to fruition, said Fraenkel.