Bar-Ilan today ranks among the world’s top 500 universities and in some areas of academic performance numbers among the leading 400.The new BIU President, Prof. Arie Zaban, is now setting an even more ambitious goal: to become one of the 250 best institutions of higher learning around the globe. “We have the right people and capabilities to climb upward towards the highest academic echelons, while advancing research and teaching – for the benefit of the State of Israel, its citizens and humanity as a whole.”
The pursuit of excellence and academic achievement is only part of Prof. Zaban’s vision for the future of the university. Of prime importance is Bar-Ilan’s capacity, as an academic institution, to make a significant impact on our lives. This he hopes to accomplish through the Impact Centers – which he initiated and launched in his previous position as Vice President for Research.
The Impact Centers present an innovative approach to academic inquiry at Bar-Ilan, called “challenge-driven research.” Zaban explains that “the emphasis in these centers is on the universal challenge that needs to be confronted in general and the specific application of that challenge here in Israel.” In a global society, many of the same challenges are broad and far- reaching in most nations of the world, although the manifestation might be specific to the individual country and culture. These BIU Impact Centers bring together researchers and students from different academic disciplines to solve these complex problems, and will contribute significantly to generating major change in our world. “The impact may be social, economic, political, technological, medical and even cultural.”
Bar-Ilan University currently has 11 Impact Centers, including, for example, the Network Science Impact Center, which addresses the need to prevent the rapid and random collapse of complex networks such as those supporting the Internet, traffic lights, rail and air travel. “We all remember the great power outage in the US, the collapse of the railroad network in Italy and the outbreak of the Ebola epidemic which was spread by infected airline passengers. The dilemmas – how to avert the shutdown of complex networks and how to safeguard them from hacking – are challenges that these researchers confront.” The Smart Cities Impact Center focuses on developing solutions to challenges posed by modern urbanization, in the Bar-Ilan Metropolis and beyond. Other Impact Centers explore such enigmas as how to minimize the recurrence of crime and repeated imprisonment, and how to deal with emotional health and depression.
Another strategic goal is to develop academic study and adapt it to the needs of our changing world. For example, digital learning opportunities could be expanded to include more online and personalized study. Prof. Zaban also talks of implementing professional development and refresher courses in order to enable key members of the work force to stay updated in their dynamic fields and specialty areas every few years.
Underscoring the importance of Bar-Ilan University’s unique mission to serve asa dynamic Israeli Jewish university, Prof. Zaban believes that the BIU community has much to offer students, faculty and staff as well as the surrounding community. “We want to be the most vital, interesting, diverse and relevant university for Jews from across the spectrum. As an academic center with a cultural and intellectual platform, we seek to further meaningful Judaica research and study and provide a forum for open and lively discussion betweendiverse groups – religious and secular, Jews and non-Jews, sabras and new immigrants.”
In the coming years, President Zaban believes that the university “will invest increasingly in science and research, strengthen its multicultural approach to diverse sectors of the population, and continue to develop BIU’s expansive activities within the university while also working to make the campus come alive at night for students and neighboring communities, with jogging and walking paths, special events, eateries, and more.”
With such ambitious strategic goals, Bar-Ilan University will undoubtedly undergo transformational change with Prof. Zaban at the helm, and serve as a dynamic academic and cultural center from morning to evening.