Welcome to the 2019 President’s Report, in which we review a decade of progress and look forward to continuing fruition of the Technion vision.
When I received the tremendous honor of becoming Technion President ten years ago, I felt that I was handed an enormous responsibility: not only to maintain Technion’s status as Israel’s first and leading university but to steer it onward and upward to new levels of excellence and global standing. The challenges along the way were numerous, but now that I am completing my tenure, I look back at the last decade with satisfaction. Technion’s role at the forefront of science and technology is indisputable, both in Israel and around the world.
When I became President, the global financial crisis of 2008 was fresh and Israeli higher education was in an existential crisis, caused by the proliferation of new private colleges and by the diminished status of academia within Israeli society in general.
At the beginning of my tenure, I presented a vision to the academic assembly in a speech laying out the goals and priorities for my presidency. This strategic vision arose out of an intimate knowledge of the university since joining the faculty in 1975. Prior to my presidency, I was dean of the Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine for six years and Technion Vice President for Resource Development and External Relations for seven years.
This year’s President’s Report has a dual role. As always, it relates Technion’s development since the last Board of Governors meeting, but this year, we also summarize the progress of the entire last decade. It is an opportunity to revisit our strategic vision of 2009 and compare it to what actually unfolded.
At the time, I divided my strategic vision into fields which I deemed critical to the university’s development: recruiting new faculty, improving the student experience, advancing the level of research conducted on campus, developing the campus, and strengthening Technion’s global role.
STRATEGIC GOAL: Replenishing the Faculty
In 2009, Technion’s faculty had been reduced due to a wave of retiring baby boomers. The departure of a large cohort of professors affected the quality of the education and research. Consequently, a top priority was to refill the faculty’s ranks with first-rate young professors.
I was personally involved in recruiting candidates, meeting with the most promising men and women in their fields to persuade them to join Technion. The only way to replenish the faculty with outstanding educators and scientists would be to provide up-and-coming stars with cutting-edge laboratory facilities on a par with those at top universities around the world. Consequently, during my tenure dozens of state-of-the-art labs were built and renovated throughout the campus in order to accommodate incoming new faculty – most of whom were moving back to Israel after spending years at the finest institutions in the world. A large share of the campus development budget was allocated to these projects every year.
Approximately half of Technion’s current faculty was hired in the past ten years.
STRATEGIC GOAL: Upgrading the Student Experience
It is a delight to be part of the heightened spirit on campus. Over the past decade, the overall student experience at Technion has changed dramatically. Despite being a first-rate teaching university, many aspects of student life were not optimal ten years ago, and this meant that a growing number of excellent potential students were choosing to study elsewhere. We made it a top priority to empower a nurturing and inspiring educational environment in which each and every student can flourish.
A committee headed by Prof. Yachin Cohen was tasked with examining the student workload, and its findings led to important changes implemented as of 2013. These included shortening the semesters and the exam periods, as well as coordinating and balancing the workloads of students in different faculties, among other important steps. The Students Association has been involved in the ongoing efforts to improve the student experience at the university.
The Technion Center for Promotion of Learning and Teaching continues to play a key role in upgrading the quality of teaching, which is a critical factor for improving student satisfaction. Intensive efforts are being made to introduce more dynamic and flexible learning environments, as well as innovative, non-traditional forms of learning suitable to the 21st century, such as MOOCs, flipped classrooms and video lectures.
Another initiative with a significant impact on teaching quality is the Yanai Prize for Excellence in Academic Education. Launched in 2011, the Yanai Prize recognizes faculty members who set an example through their valuable contributions to teaching, and who strive to improve student involvement which enhances the sense of belonging. The prize is considered prestigious and provides an incentive to improve classroom performance and interaction with students.
All these efforts have begun to bear fruit, and we have made a quantum leap in recent years. Technion has now been voted the top Israeli university for student satisfaction for three consecutive years!
STRATEGIC GOAL: Advancing Basic and Applied Research
A fundamental part of the Technion founding vision is to empower Technion’s position at the front line of scientific and technological research and development. In joining the ranks of the world’s leading scientific and technological research universities, Technion is of service to the State of Israel and to all of humanity. In addition to hiring top researchers to join our faculty, the funding of research labs and equipment has increased by 93 percent. Moreover, we have dedicated a great deal of energy to raising funds for research. During my tenure, sponsored research from external sources has grown by 50 percent, from $61.7 million in 2009 to $92.8 million in 2018.
We have also encouraged collaboration between Technion scientists and industry. The new Center for Machine Learning and Intelligent Systems that was recently inaugurated, in partnership with Intel Corporation, is just one example of a 21st century Technion platform that facilitates cooperation between Technion faculties and high-tech companies, both Israeli and multinational.
Another focus has been to increase global collaboration. Technion has academic collaboration agreements with 213 universities in 41 different countries, and has submitted 15 cooperation projects within the Erasmus+ program to strengthen cooperation with European universities.
Technion frequently makes headlines thanks to the numerous, highly impressive breakthroughs emanating from its labs. It is heart-warming that many of these groundbreaking discoveries are improving the world and benefitting humanity. Just this past year, the work of our scientists is expected to improve the quality of brain scans, regenerate damaged tissue, revolutionize information processing and predict the effectiveness of antibiotic cocktails, among many other exciting advances.
Thanks to the hard work of T3, the Technion Technology Transfer Unit, optimal alliances are being forged between scientists, industry and investors in order to bring Technion innovations to the marketplace. The new DRIVE accelerator program for entrepreneurs who are part of the Technion community and whose start-ups are in the pre-seed or seed stages is also showing impressive results after only 2.5 years.
STRATEGIC GOAL: Campus Development
We have invested heavily in state-of-the-art facilities and increased accommodation units on campus. Our priority has been to develop our beautiful campus on Mount Carmel to ensure that it keeps pace with the university’s growing needs.
During the last ten years, three new buildings have been inaugurated: the Emerson Family Life Sciences Building, the D. Dan and Betty Kahn Mechanical Engineering Building and the David and Janet Polak Visitors Center. During this period, many older buildings underwent significant renovations, and labs were added and upgraded on a massive scale throughout the campus.
The Technion is giving a whole new kind of welcome to visitors. All entrances to Technion City have been upgraded and the new main gates and approach roads are designed to ease traffic. Other large-scale ongoing projects included accessibility, and the upgrading of basic infrastructure such as air-conditioning and water-saving systems, and improving campus safety.
In addition, nearly 1,000 new dorm beds have been added thanks to several major projects: the construction of the Stanley Shalom Zielony Graduate Student Village, the new undergraduate student village, and substantial renovations of the Canada Dormitory Village and the Rifkin Dormitories. Two more 14-story towers with 314 beds will be ready in 2020.
STRATEGIC GOAL: Globalization
Our ambitious strategy of 2009 spoke of the critical importance of facilitating Technion’s expansion from the local to the global arena. To this end, I led several large-scale initiatives aimed at deepening Technion’s ties with the international scientific and academic community.
The Technion International School, offering English-language degrees and numerous academic programs, has grown from 39 students in 2009 to over 1,000 in 2018. The number of Technion students taking part in international student exchange programs has risen sharply.
During my tenure, we have seen a significant increase in academic collaborations in the global arena and particularly with Europe.
On January 1, 2019, Technion became the sixth member of the prestigious EuroTech Universities Alliance, a network of top-tier research-based universities known for their scientific excellence and vibrant innovation ecosystems. The combination with the great strengths of the other members of the alliance, an elite group of European universities similar to Technion, will help us ensure we are at the forefront of scientific research.
The jewel in the crown of Technion’s globalization efforts, however, is the opening of our two overseas campuses. The Guangdong Technion-Israel Institute of Technology (GTIIT) in Shantou, China, opened in 2017; and the Joan and Irwin Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute, opened in 2013 as a partnership between Cornell University and Technion.
It is wonderful to share with you that we have made significant progress with each of our strategic goals. Technion is an institution whose local and global contribution is considerable – in excellence, teaching, innovation, and outstanding scientific and technological breakthroughs. It has been an honor to stand at the helm of this venerable institution and I am confident that Technion will continue on a course of excellence and success for many more years to come. It is with deep gratitude that I end my tenure as Technion President, passing on the beacon of the Technion vision to my successor, Prof. Uri Sivan.