Introducing a multiversity

University of Haifa offers academic excellence and creative thinking capabilities



Prof. Ron Robin, President of the University of Haifa
Prof. Ron Robin, President of the University of Haifa

By Muhammad Ali Bandial

Published: Thu 18 Nov 2021, 12:34 PM

Last updated: Thu 18 Nov 2021, 12:35 PM

One of Israel’s leading research universities, the University of Haifa, is preparing to welcome its first cohort of students from the UAE.

“Here, students will not only experience excellent academic study, but also a snapshot of the diverse tapestry that makes up Israeli society,” said Professor Ron Robin, President of the University of Haifa. “Our institution is very diverse, and we know our visiting students will quickly feel very comfortable. In addition, they will have an opportunity to learn how to really impact their surroundings. We are all about social and environmental sustainability.”

The University of Haifa, located on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, ranks highly on academic parametres as well as in creative thinking. “We call our institution a multiversity, because of the emphasis on thinking across subject areas,” said Robin, explaining that this is achieved through many disciplinary initiatives and partnerships.

Known for his influence in introducing the "multiversity revolution” in 2018, Robin explains that people must be trained for what doesn’t exist yet, and they need to be prepared to solve problems using technologies that don’t yet exist.

“This is the greatest challenge facing the academic world in the 21st century. We believe that an essential first step is to start to break down the walls between the different academic disciplines. Our goal is not only to ensure that students learn different fields, but also to provide them with tools to enable them to use each field to benefit the other.” He prescribed cognitive flexibility, creativity, thinking outside the box, and an ability to process data and use them differently in each instance.

The University of Haifa is known for its web of partnerships. In March, it conferred an honorary doctorate upon Professor Lawrence S. Bacow, president of Harvard University. In the virtual ceremony, speakers discussed the areas of cooperation between Haifa and Harvard, and Bacow discussed what he values about the collaborations.

He praised the “Start-Up Nation” for its ability to draw talent from around the world through the opportunities that exist within the country, and commented: “We live in a world right now where the only truly scarce capital is human capital. Israel has demonstrated to the world that a country or a region doesn't need to be rich in natural resources in order to be a wealthy country. Israel does it by creating, aggregating, and acting as a magnet for human capital. It draws people to Israel from around the world who come to the country’s universities to study, and people who are attracted by the opportunity that exists." Bacow explained that both University of Haifa and Harvard, in their tireless pursuits that they inspire and enable, have never been more important for society than they are now.

Before joining the University of Haifa, Robin was the Senior Vice Provost at New York University, and instrumental in setting up New York University, Abu Dhabi and recruiting faculty members. This has made him a popular guide on the opportunities for Israel-UAE cooperation: among Israeli colleagues, and in the UAE among scholars and politicians. In May, he visited the UAE as a guest of the Foreign Ministry, met with ministers, and is now set to sign a host of MOUs with academic institutions.

“The rise in cooperation is going to bring about a very significant exchange of students for various courses including our ‘Green MBA.’ We anticipate particular interest in all courses related to the sea and marine life, in which we excel.” Robin considers every partnership and connection an opportunity to strengthen this vision, and is particularly excited by the possibilities opened up by the Abraham Accords.

Overlooking the Mediterranean, the University of Haifa has a strong culture of research in all matters related to the ocean. National Geographic announced in May that it has named University of Haifa professor, Dr Aviad Scheinin as one of its “Emerging Explorers” for 2021. The prestigious publication named Scheinin as one of the 15 individuals from around the globe who are changing the world “one idea at a time.” Scheinin has spent two decades honing his expertise on conservation, behavioural science, and long-term ecological research of coastal dolphins, sharks, rays, and bluefin tunas.

The magazine said they “are conducting innovative work focused on a range of topics such as inventing space technologies, ocean exploration, understanding the past through archaeology and anthropology, species conservation, storytelling, and elevating young voices for the future of education.”

The UAE Collaboration

Research collaborations between Haifa and the UAE will run the full gamut of subjects, from science and marine studies to humanities and religious studies, said Robin. “We have an interfaith centre here in Haifa, and already have a partner in the US,” he noted. “Now, we are interested in adding a partner from the UAE.”

The University of Haifa provides enrichment for many senior soldiers from the Israeli army, and Robin wants to see it doing the same for military figures from the UAE. “There is much potential for this,” he said.

Some of the projects that excite Robin combine science, the need to answer pressing contemporary questions and the shared heritage that gave the Abraham Accords their name, namely Biblical heritage. "We have a wheat genomic project trying to create food resources that can be grown in harsh conditions, and we work closely with archeologists who found wheat from Biblical times.”

They are making wheat from that era grow again today, hoping it could give rise to the best varieties for the region’s arid conditions. “We are reconstructing DNA with plants that date from Biblical times in harsh conditions, the likes of which both Israel and the UAE share today. We are using knowledge of the past to try to help food supply for today.”

Robin thinks that this kind of project epitomises the multiversity approach, and constitutes one of many examples of areas where the joint brainpower of Israel and the UAE will achieve great things. “The possibilities are amazing,” he said. “We bring out of the box thinking. There are many places where science thrives, but here, it also comes together with great creativity, Our partner, the UAE, is also a new country, and the ability to think creatively is part of the culture there. It gives us a great common denominator to achieve exciting things.”


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