Mixing Israeli Chutzpah with Chinese Order: New Institute of Technology in China
Author: Shireen Bernstein is a PhD candidate in Media Psychology with a passion for innovation and technology and how it can improve lives and mental health. Thriving on the varied nature of her academic and professional work, she loves a good run on the beach and her daily dose of chocolate. Shireen is also the Insights and Partnerships Manager for the North Sydney Innovation Network.
New Era for One of the World’s Top 50 Technology Universities
It’s not everyday you gain an insight into how Israel’s world-renowned science and engineering university, Technion: Israel Institute of Technology, came to establish a new campus (GTIIT) in the coastal city of Shantou in Guangdong province, China (in a partnership with Shantou University).
Renowned for the research it conducts in fields such as biotechnology, space science, nanotechnology, stem cell science, and energy, China seems like an unusual place for the Israeli Institute of Technology to lay down roots.
Attendees didn’t have to wait long to have their perplexity remedied. At a presentation at Masada College on Sydney’s North Shore on the 7th February, by Professor Paul Feigin, Vice President for Strategic Projects at Technion, the reason for the association was made abundantly clear.
The Technion (located in the city of Haifa) is consistently ranked among the world’s top 50 science and engineering universities. It claims three Nobel Prize winners within its faculty and boasts the most advanced labs in the world. Boasting campuses in Haifa, Tel Aviv, New York and now China, attendees were excited to have a behind-the-scenes introduction to the Technion’s foray into China.
With a population of around 5.6 million and the area earmarked for rejuvenation and designated as a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in China, choosing Guangdong for the new campus location made perfect sense. SEZs are set up to spark rapid economic growth by using tax and business incentives to attract foreign investment and technology. That said, there were still many bureaucratic hurdles for Technion to get over.
The event began with a Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Traditional Owners by Olivia Chen, a Masada student and one of five gifted Australian students to attend the Technion SciTech summer scholarship. This scholarship provides talented students with the opportunity to work with Technion Institute of Technology scientists in their state of the art labs for three weeks.
Why was chutzpah so important?
There were certainly plenty of “wows” from the crowd at the sheer size and scale of the two campuses covering 415,654 square metres, along with the speed with which the campuses were constructed.
The term chutzpah, certainly captures the dogged determination of the Technion to make the campus work, often in the midst of regulatory requirements that were complex and unfamiliar. The equally astounding commitment of the Chinese government to constructing a state-of-the-art campus in Guandong was also a sight to behold.
The Institute of Technology’s campus, academics and students
The campus represents Israel’s first University in China and was funded through the generosity of the Li Ka Shing foundation in partnership with Shantou University. The Li Ka Shing foundation was founded in 1980 with healthcare and education as its core projects, so the decision to fund the Guangdong Technion (GTIIT) is certainly in line with these objectives. The GTIIT offers three schools: engineering, science and life science, with graduate, undergraduate and advanced degrees on offer. Teaching and research at GTIIT is carried out in English with the same high academic standards expected at the Haifa Technion.
The current Guangdong Technion Institute of Technology faculty is made up of 732 academics, 60.4% of which have PhDs; a situation uncommon in Australia where all core staff academics are usually required to have PhDs. It is expected that the student population at Guangdong Technion will be around 3,000 in the first ten years (2017-26) and while hoping to attract students from throughout China, the GTIIT also hopes to attract both high calibre international students and eminent academics from around the world.
Watch this YouTube video to see more about the Guangdong Technion Israel Institute of Technology (YouTube):
How can Australians get involved?
The Technion expects that around 20% of the student population will be international students, the majority from South East Asian countries but talented Australian students are certainly encouraged to apply.
Similarly, the Institute of Technology will be aiming to attract 10-12 academics from around the world each year. Australian academics can visit the website to view GIIT faculty positions and also find out more about the research fellowships available.
There are also big plans to forge technology transfer by creating a tech transfer chain on or near campus, with the intention to take innovations from Research and Development (R&D) stages to commercialisation in one place. The GTIIT is also planning to be an attractive location for innovative startups and established companies on campus. Australian businesses can find out more via the website or contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of the key questions Professor Feigin answered for the audience is “Why did the Technion choose China for this Institute of Technology partnership?”. The decision was clear when Professor Feigin explained China’s significant spending on R&D and their commitment to science and engineering research and innovation overall.
In fact, China is now the second-largest performer in terms of R&D spending as a nation, and accounts for 20% of total world R&D expenditure. It was impressive to hear that China is also the largest producer of scientific articles in the world and that there are significant opportunities for scientific collaboration with other countries.
China is now the second-largest performer in terms of R&D spending as a nation, and accounts for 20% of total world R&D expenditure.
While there are certainly challenges to this kind of collaboration, given the regulatory and educational requirements of China, it is a partnership that the Technion felt was well worth the effort.
In a recent interview with Times Higher Education, Professor Feigin also described how the association for the new Institute of Technology was borne out of mutual respect between the nations: “Israeli universities and Israel [as a whole] are very highly regarded in Asia. We don’t have the same issues [that we do elsewhere]… With our Arab neighbouring countries, there’s very little collaboration. We do some, mainly in Jordan. But it’s very hard because of the political situation.”
As Professor Feigin said at the event, “I believe that the Technion in China is about being in the right place at the right time”.
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