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New York campus signals Israeli university’s global ambitions

Jerusalem, Dec. 28: New York City’s Roosevelt Island is half a world  away from the Technion’s home on Mount Carmel. But that is exactly the  point, said Oded Shmueli, vice-president for research, explaining why  the Israeli university is embarking on an ambitious multi-billion-dollar  joint venture with Cornell to build a new technology institute of higher  education in New York.

The city will benefit from the new university, drawing high-tech  businesses, and creating new jobs and new companies. But the Technion,  also known as the Israel Institute of Technology, will benefit too by  raising its profile in the scientific world and attracting new human and financial resources.

“If you look at science and technology today, it’s no longer a local affair. Our scientists cooperate with scientists worldwide,” Shmueli told The Media Line.

Shmueli was speaking a day after the city announced the two universities had won a heated competition to build the campus on a small island off Manhattan. Their joint proposal calls for spending $2 billion to build a campus of 2,500 students and 280 faculty with the aim of not just conducting research and teaching but acting as an incubator of high-tech startups. The plan includes a $150 million revolving credit line to get them off the ground.

“Thanks to this outstanding partnership and groundbreaking proposal from Cornell and the Technion, New York City’s goal of becoming the global leader in technological innovation is now within sight,” New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said last week. “By adding a new state-of-the-art institution to our landscape, we will educate tomorrow’s entrepreneurs and create the jobs of the future.”

Although it is the world financial capital, New York has been a laggard in luring technology companies. It only recently overtook Boston for attracting venture capital for startups and Bloomberg has bemoaned the shortage of engineers in the city. The new institution, when fully up and running will increase the number of locally trained graduates in engineering by 70 per cent.

The Technion has had a successful history of morphing its academic research into commercial technology and in the process attracting technology startups and multinational R&D operations into its orbit. Its Alfred Mann Institute, set up four years ago, is dedicated to creating practical applications for medical-technology research.

The Cornell-Technion partnership was formed only a few months ago after the two institutions filed separate expressions of interest in the campus New York wanted to develop. The two institutions had no formal ties beforehand.

“It will be a good match, based on history, based on complementary assets,” said Shmueli, who is a computer scientist by training. “We understood we couldn’t do it ourselves.”

The partnership was up against stiff competition, although one major contender – Stanford University – dropped out at the last minute. That left the two vying with Columbia University and groups led by Carnegie Mellon University and New York University. The Cornell-Technion bid was given an 11th-hour boost by a gift of $350 million to Cornell for the venture.

The two universities are both well respected academically. Cornell, based in the upstate New York town of Ithaca ranked 13th among 500 in last year’s Academic Ranking of World Universities, which rates institutions of higher education based on the number alumni and staff winning Nobel and other prizes, as well as research citations in top academic journals.

The Technion tied with other institutions at 102, making it the No. 2-ranked Israeli university after the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It ranked it 15th in the world in computer science, 42nd in engineering/technology, and 51st in natural sciences and mathematics All seven Israeli universities made it onto the top-500 list, the 13th-largest national group even though Israel is a country of just seven million people.

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