Israel is very important to Intel. How important? Important enough that company CEO Paul Otellini himself came to Israel to announce a new scholarship fund to train the next generation of Israeli tech pros.

In a program Intel is establishing together with Israel’s Education Ministry, the company will spend $5 million over the next five years to provide advanced education to students in junior high and high schools in the “hard sciences” — information science, technology, engineering, math, and others. Besides increasing the level of knowledge and scholarship among students, the program aims to double the number of students in these fields.

First to benefit will be schools in southern Israel, including Kiryat Gat, Ashkelon, Beersheba, Netivot, Dimona, and Ashdod. Students will enroll when they start junior high school (seventh grade), and continue through until the end of high school. Participants will attend special advanced classes and work with mentors and teachers from Intel; during school holidays, students will participate in Intel programs, joining lab and camp programs that will reinforce their studies.

For the Education Ministry, the Intel program comes at a perfect time: The ministry has set as a major goal a sharp increase in the number of students participating in high school tech programs. Right now, 6.5 percent of Israeli students were on track for a matriculation certificate in science-oriented subjects upon graduation; the ministry would like to increase that to 14%. The Intel program will be expanded to over 200 schools by next year, and include some 4,000 students.

Intel, and Otellini, have long been fans of Israel, to the extent that Intel is currently Israel’s largest single employer, with 8,100 employees. “Some of our most innovative and ambitious engineering projects have been undertaken in Israel,” Otellini said at an event in Tel Aviv introducing the program, adding that Intel saw preserving Israel’s “tech brain trust” as an important mission not just for the state, but for Intel itself.

And what happens after high school? Students who excel in high-tech will be able to qualify for a $30,000 (Canadian) scholarship, supplied by the Schulich Leaders program. The scholarship is being provided by Canadian Jewish philanthropist Seymour Schulich, considered one of Canada’s most successful investors and a major player in Canada’s booming shale oil industry.

Schulich is perhaps the biggest private donor in the world to Israeli high-tech education; in recent years he has given tens of millions to the Technion and personally was responsible for the construction of many of the high-tech “smart classrooms” in the Negev and Galilee – a project on which he spent at least $100 million.

This year’s Schulich Leadership awards were distributed in a special ceremony last week to 20 top students attending the Technion, Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, Bar Ilan University, and other top institutions of higher learning. The 20 were chosen out of a pool of 600 applicants, and all are studying math, physics, engineering, information science, and other science or tech subjects.

The project is set to grpw, Schulich said. Next year, the program will include 30 students, and by 2014, 50 students will be awarded a Schulich Leadership scholarship, the philanthropist said.