Israeli-style ingenuity that’s made in China

December 13, 2018
By: Jeff Richard

I was highly intrigued to read the recent multi-part series on China in The New York Times, which chronicled how the country has silenced its doubters to become a superpower by “rewriting its own script” and becoming “the land that failed to fail.”

The article series happened to be published at a time when China was at the forefront of my mind, in the immediate aftermath of the Technion World Tour China from Oct. 28-Nov. 10, when I had the privilege of accompanying American supporters of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology on their tour of the Guangdong Technion Israel Institute of Technology (GTIIT), the first Israeli university campus in China. We also visited some of most culturally significant sites in Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, and elsewhere, and met the leaders of some of China’s most influential start-ups and investment companies.

Established with the support of the Guangdong Province, the Shantou Municipal Government, the Chinese government, and the Li Ka-shing Foundation, GTIIT is training an elite group of scientists and engineers to shape China’s future, and particularly to address the nation’s well-documented environmental challenges. The Institute is also promoting cooperation between Shantou University and the Technion, where partnerships are already underway in the medical sciences.

It wasn’t my first trip to China. Yet the visit was unique because I got to see the country — and the Technion’s trailblazing work there — through the eyes of donors. Our university’s American supporters weren’t just blown away by the new campus; many admitted they hadn’t realized that GTIIT isn’t a study abroad or exchange program, but rather the Technion’s own campus in China. These are Technion students, earning Technion degrees. Our donors felt an overwhelming sense of pride from this realization, which underscored their appreciation of the university’s deep global impact and of the Chinese students’ genuine openness to learning about Israel.

But the Technion’s ambitious project in China also begs the question: Why, exactly, are Chinese students studying toward Israeli degrees? Why didn’t we settle for a conventional study abroad relationship with Shantou University?

Understanding the Technion-Shantou relationship and its manifestation, the GTIIT campus, requires some of the backstory about the partnership. Shantou chose the Technion as its partner over many other universities due to our institution’s unique expertise and strong sense of mission, among other factors. Also, the Technion has three undergraduate majors — material science, chemical engineering, and food engineering — which are all directly related to Shantou’s desire to be a key driver in its country’s quest for new environmental solutions and sustainability.

It isn’t just that our students, faculty, and departments have specialized knowledge. Perhaps more importantly, they’re driven by Technion’s greater sense of purpose as an academic institution: an embrace of tikkun olam (the Jewish value of repairing the world) in pursuit of solving problems others consider unsolvable, such as air pollution in China. No dream or outcome is too far-fetched for the Technion, whether it be through enabling researchers and alumni to design drugs that target individual cancer cells when cancer is widely deemed incurable, undertaking multi-billion-dollar solar initiatives to create “sun farms” in the Negev desert that will help Israel achieve 10-percent sustainable energy by 2020, or pioneering desalination and wastewater treatment solutions with the ultimate goal of eliminating global drought.

Quite simply, the Technion came to China to do good. But we decided that a study abroad program wouldn’t satisfy our ambitions in the world’s most populous country. We’re striving to make a more enduring impact that is intimately woven into the fabric of the nation itself, as well as into the fabric of its ever-expanding relationship with Israel.

This means exporting the Technion’s groundbreaking educational model to China, a model that is rooted in an interdisciplinary research approach — unique to Israel’s universities and developed at the Technion—which brings together experts across fields to cultivate big ideas and address the planet’s most difficult challenges. This way of doing business has supported the Technion’s people as they have made immeasurable contributions to Israel and the world in medicine, sustainable energy, computer science, water conservation, nanotechnology, and many other fields. Now, we’ve set up shop in China, our university’s latest venue for producing world-changing innovation.

A permanent Technion presence in China means cultivating a new generation of Chinese leaders who will earn a Technion degree and will serve as ambassadors for Israel, wherever they go. It means a new model for higher education in the country — teaching in the English language, and challenging conventional thinking in Chinese academia. It means opening a new frontier and market for Israel and China which transforms the allies’ ties into a business and academic relationship, not just a political or diplomatic one.

And it means serving as the greatest bridge between Jerusalem and Beijing during this unique moment in time, when the “start-up nation” and the “land that failed to fail” both continue to defy the odds and rise in the global economy.

For more than a century, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology has pioneered in science and technology education and delivered world-changing impact. Proudly a global university, the Technion has long leveraged boundary-crossing collaborations to advance breakthrough research and technologies. Now with a presence in three countries, the Technion will prepare the next generation of global innovators. Technion people, ideas and inventions make immeasurable contributions to the world, innovating in fields from cancer research and sustainable energy to quantum computing and computer science to do good around the world.

The American Technion Society supports visionary education and world-changing impact through the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Based in New York City, we represent thousands of US donors, alumni and stakeholders who invest in the Technion’s growth and innovation to advance critical research and technologies that serve the State of Israel and the global good. Over more than 75 years, our nationwide supporter network has funded new Technion scholarships, research, labs and facilities that have helped deliver world-changing contributions and extend Technion education to campuses in three countries.