Among the many calumnies faced by the State of Israel is the claim that it’s an apartheid state. In some quarters, that allegation has prompted calls for an academic boycott of Israeli universities and colleges.
Yet on Jan. 3, 2014, the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, headquartered in Haifa, will launch its first ever “massive online open course,” or MOOC, in the Arabic language.
The course on nano-technology will be led by Hossam Haick, a faculty member in the Technion’s chemical engineering department who is an Arab.
So far, students from Saudi Arabia, Syria, Abu Dhabi, the Gulf Emirates and even Canada have registered to take the course, said Technion president Peretz Lavie.
Lavie was in Canada last week to meet the school’s supporters, help negotiate a pending agreement with Toronto’s University Health Network (UHN) on a joint research and development project, and to address audiences in Toronto, Waterloo and Ottawa on the Technion’s innovative entrepreneurial agenda.
Lavie said Haick is one of the university’s bright stars and an accomplished scientist. He’s responsible for developing the Na-nose, a device that analyzes particles exhaled from the nose to diagnoses for diseases, such as cancer.
Over the last few decades, the university has invested heavily into improving the outcome of its Arab students, said Lavie. Funded in large part by Canadian oleh Benny Landa, founder of Indigo Digital Press, the effort has paid off. Ten years ago, only nine per cent of the school’s students were Arabs; today that figure stands at 20 per cent. Ten years ago, the dropout rate for Arab students was 47 per cent; today, it’s nine per cent, the same as the rest of the student population, he said.
“How can you identify the university as apartheid?” Lavie asked.
The Technion boasts three Nobel laureates – a fourth, Arie Varshar, graduated in 1966 but is now at the University of Southern California – and it plays an important role in training the engineers and entrepreneurs who have turned Israel into an internationally recognized start-up nation, Lavie said.
In December 2011, the Technion partnered with Cornell University to win a bid to establish a new applied science and engineering institution in New York City. Later, Chinese billionaire Li Ka-Shing donated $130 million toward creation of the Technion Guandong Institute of Technology. Since then, “scores of universities” have approached him inquiring about partnerships, Lavie said.
In Toronto, the Technion is close to finalizing an arrangement with the UHN on joint research on stem cells that ultimately will benefit cardiac patients. UHN represents Toronto General Hospital, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Toronto Western Hospital and Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, which are all affiliated with the University of Toronto.
The project requires an investment of tens of millions of dollars, but if clinical trials prove successful, “the sky’s the limit” as to potential financial benefits, said Lavie.