Swiss Delegation Headed by State Secretary for Education, Research and Innovation Visits Birzeit University

A high-level Swiss delegation of scientists, academics, researchers and economists visited Birzeit University on December 6, 2014. A roundtable meeting was held on promoting innovation, entrepreneurship and start-ups in Palestine, and attended by Palestinian Minister of Education and Higher Education Khawla Shakhsheer, a number of academics and specialists from Birzeit University, and representatives of a number of Palestinian companies and institutions. 

The meeting started with a welcome by Henry Jaqaman , university vice-president for academic affairs. Jaqamangave a brief introduction on academic relations between Birzeit University and Swiss universities, and praised the idea of joint cooperation in various academic fields and the effort exerted in supporting leadership and innovation in Palestine.

Swiss State Secretary for Education, Research and Innovation Mauro Dell’Ambrogio stated his country’s support for start-ups and entrepreneurship programs around the world, and offered his hope that the meeting bears fruit in future cooperation and partnerships.

These addresses were followed by a presentation by Walter Steinlin, president of the Commission for Technology and Innovation (CTI), on the policies of Swiss innovation from the point of view of CTI. He shared the mechanisms that his country adopts to transfer knowledge into projects that result in financial and human benefit. He also expressed the Commission’s interest in supporting projects and research by emphasizing the mind and skills, and the quality of knowledge and research production, in addition to laws that protect workers’ rights.

Suhail Sultan, director of the MBA program in the Faculty of Business and Economics at Birzeit University, gave a presentation on the entrepreneurship ecosystem in Palestine, emphasizing that innovation in Palestine faces a lot of obstacles and that there is a need for national policies encouraging innovation in order to improve competitiveness. In addition, he shed light on the importance of developing strategies that enable women to play an active role in entrepreneurship and creating job opportunities that contribute to the reduction of unemployment and boost economic growth on the other.

Afterwards, professor Adnan Yahya, from the university’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Tamer Essawi, Dean of Nursing, Pharmacy and Health Professions, spoke about the promotion of innovation at the university. Yahya reviewed the efforts that Birzeit University has made, as well as the relationships and partnerships that have been established in recent years nationally and internationally. He listed the obstacles that impede innovation in Palestinian universities, naming first the Israeli occupation, which hinders student exchange between universities. Essawi spoke about the latest research and pioneering developments in the Faculty of Nursing, Pharmacy and Health Professions, noting that the college relies on the support of activities by the community, and focuses on education, training and research. Additionally, he shared recent developments in the college’s project of opening a pharmaceuticals factory by the beginning of next year, and its overall interest and efforts in genetic research.  

Sam Bahour, Birzeit University’s Investment Officer, talked about the promotion of innovation in the Palestinian private sector, where he said that the Israeli occupation is the biggest obstacle, since it controls the borders, crossing, and imports and exports of the Palestinian territories, thereby negatively affecting entrepreneurship. He also talked about the importance of finding alternative sources for the external support upon which the Palestinian economy depends.

Palestinian Minister of Education and Higher Education Khawla Shakhsheer briefed attendees on the ministry’s role in supporting research and innovation via a number of projects, among them the Elham-Inspiration prize for innovative projects by teachers and principals of schools in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, including the Jordan Valley and marginalized areas. The Minister said that supporting research at schools and universities is an utmost priority for the Ministry and that the Ministry has the Council for Scientific Research to support university study and centers of excellence.

Subsequently, an open discussion was held between the Swiss and Palestinian participants on the topics raised and other related issues. 

The roundtable was concluded with an exchange of gifts between the head of the Swiss delegation, the university’s Vice-President Jaqaman, and the deans of the ffaculties of pharmacy, business, engineering and external academic relations. A reception followed, attended by additional academics, entrepreneurs and members of international organizations. Together they networked and exchanged points of view on different academic, economic and business matters.