Where the start-up nation’s next generation of tech leaders will come from

Where the start-up nation’s next generation of tech leaders will come from

A new Israeli college is developing ‘new blood’ for Israel’s hi-tech industry, in cooperation with the biggest companies in Israel

Professor Nir Ahituv, Dan Academic Center President (Courtesy DAC)
Professor Nir Ahituv, Dan Academic Center President (Courtesy DAC)

In these days of high college tuition, students – and the parents who pay to send them to school – want to see results. As in a job after graduation. Unfortunately, the standard college degree is no guarantee of anything nowadays. But a new Israeli college aims to change that, at least for students seeking to enter the hi-tech industry. The Dan Academic Center (DAC) was established in cooperation with the captains of Israel’s hi-tech industry, with a curriculum designed to train personnel for today’s market.

In much of the world, college isn’t necessarily the place to train for a job; you’re supposed to go to college in order to decide what “direction” you’re seeking, what career you might be interested in. If you want to pick up specific skills, you can take advantage of a plethora of training programs, or, if your job requires it, you might be asked to join a course where you can learn the necessary skills.

Israelis, though, are much more practical about college. Most students start their studies when they’re in their early 20s, after army service – and Israeli colleges generally don’t require students to take a set of core curriculum courses, allowing them to dive directly into the stuff they’re interested in. DAC is a full-fledged college – licensed by the Israeli Ministry of Education to give out B.Sc. degrees in computer systems, and B.A. degrees in business administration – and all the courses are based on skills in demand today by hi-tech companies.

More than 100 top members of the Israeli hi-tech industry, associated with 40 of the country’s most important technology companies, are members of DAC’s advisory board, helping the school to design policy, curriculum, and even study materials; much of what DAC students study is cutting edge stuff with information that is just not available anywhere in textbooks. In fact, the connection between DAC and the hi-tech industry is so symbiotic that the school’s spanking-new campus is located in the central Israeli city of Petah Tikvah, in an industrial zone housing the research and development facilities of companies like IBM, Cisco, and Intel.

Among the companies that were consulted on the curriculum were Check Point, Cisco, EMC, BMC Software, Orcal, Amdocs, Orbotech, Comverse, Netvision, Matrix, Cellcom, Mei-Eden, Tnuva, Clalit Health Services, Bank Leumi, Gilat Satellites, Malam Team, and others. Part of the curriculum will include extensive hands-on experience in working systems within the organizations, as well as internship opportunities. DAC opened for business about six months ago, and so far the school has about 150 students – set to double within a few months, as DAC opens a new set of business administration courses, with an emphasis on business in the high-tech world – personnel issues, how to seek funding from investors, business English, what to do when you get a buyout offer at a startup, etc.

“Without this program there is a real danger we will begin falling behind the rest of the world in hi-tech areas,” says Ziv Mandel, a member of DAC’s advisory board – but with DAC, Israel now has a fighting chance to stay ahead of the game, he says. Mandel is CEO of Matrix and co-director of John Bryce Training, and as such he would certainly be in a position to know the strengths and weaknesses of Israel’s educational system. “The Dan Academic Center is designed to meet the needs of Israel’s hi-tech industry,” he says. “With all the talk of Israel’s hi-tech prowess, fewer students have been going into computers in recent years – and many who do are not studying management and information systems, some of the key areas where we need people.” The DAC’s curriculum is designed specifically to meet those needs, and, Mandel hopes, “will be the engine that keeps Israel’s hi-tech engine in high gear.”

More than just a training program

While helping established universities and colleges to develop specific courses based on industry needs is not uncommon, establishing a whole new college for that purpose is not just uncommon, but unique – according to DAC President Professor Niv Achituv, former Academic Chairman of the Center for Internet Research of Tel Aviv university and an industry veteran, the school is the only one in the world that has developed a curriculum based on the input from hi-tech professionals.

“We’re aiming for far more than a training course, either in the context of a corporate training program or assisting another school to develop a single course,” Achituv said at a press conference marking the official opening of DAC’s campus last month. “Hi-tech is more than just about acquiring skills; it’s a way of thinking, studying, and developing. We aren’t just training workers for current jobs, but professionals who will be able to take advantage of future opportunities and be able to quickly get up to speed on technologies of the future that haven’t even been imagined yet, who will eventually become the leaders of the industry.”

While hi-tech execs are consulting and guiding the school, they aren’t funding it – and neither is the government, except for some funding from the Chief Scientist’s office. As a result, tuition is high – NIS 28,000 a year. Achituv said that about half the school’s 150-strong student body are having their tuition subsidized by their workplaces, while the other half are paying out of their pockets, or relying on some of the scholarship programs the school offers – including one that will seek to enroll students from peripheral communities (the far north, the Negev, inner cities, etc.), providing them with as much as 90% of their tuition and living expenses (the program is being paid for by a mix of private and corporate donations.

“We believe we are well on the way to turning a vision of hi-tech excellence into a reality,” said Achituv. “We have a healthy number of students, who understand what DAC is trying to accomplish. DAC is the only academic institution established with the help of entrepreneurs and executives in the hi-tech industry, and will increase the number of qualified candidates for top-level positions. I truly believe that in three years we will see the first crop of students graduate and go on to good jobs, helping to influence the next generation of hi-tech, which has been one of the most important growth engines of the Israeli economy.”

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