As my plane came in to land at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, I was looking forward to discussing important issues in Higher Education and further strengthening our ties in all things science, research and innovation.
We want the best and brightest from the UK and Israel to work closely together on ground-breaking research. This is why I met with the Vice-Chancellors from leading universities and research institutions to discuss how we can deepen our research collaborations and co-operate on the great challenges facing society.
Life at university was a prominent area we discussed including the boycotting of Israel at our institutions and more widely, the inexcusable and disgraceful spate of antisemitism that has been reported on some campuses in the UK and how we can stamp it out. We also discussed what more we could do to help facilitate student exchanges between the UK and Israel.
This too was the focus of my visit to Ramallah in West Bank where I met with leaders of universities to announce a new scheme to help Palestinian students study in the UK.
I heard about how Israel has used innovation as a source of growth not just in the tech hotbed of Tel Aviv, but around the country. I met with leading venture capitalists like the JVP group and a whole series of young, and hugely impressive, entrepreneurs. The cybersecurity cluster in Beersheba is a great example – something I know the UK, with our expertise on cybersecurity in Cheltenham at GCHQ, is learning from.
We have already achieved so much in our partnership with Israel, particularly through the UK-Israel Tech Hub, which seeks to boost our economy and help Israeli businesses gain more access to global markets. So far, we’ve seen some 175 tech partnerships with deals worth almost £100 million with more to come.
It was a privilege to meet Ofir Akunis, Minister for Science, and Eli Cohen, the Minister for Industry and the Economy, to discuss the importance of building an innovation-driven economy and attracting direct foreign investment, putting pen to paper on a series of new and exciting agreements.
These will boost innovation, academic and scientific collaboration between the UK and Israel – such as the new £10 million Britain Israel Research and Academic Exchange (BIRAX) which will explore the potential for artificial intelligence in helping solve the challenges raised by an ageing society as well support the companies making these breakthroughs. We also signed a multi-million pound deal with the Israeli Innovation Authority to support pioneering ideas in fields including artificial intelligence and developing new and advanced materials.
Developing this ecosystem of collaboration will allow Israeli and British companies, large and small, to flourish and be at the forefront of new technologies that will benefit the economy, society and create jobs.
The core reason for my visit to Israel was to further strengthen the close ties that exist between our two great countries and to highlight how deep our relationship runs, furthering the excellent work already done by H.E. Mark Regev, the Israeli Ambassador to the UK and H.E. David Quarrey, the British Ambassador to Israel.
This was reinforced by the visit of His Royal Highness, Prince William, as well as a trade-focused visit of a delegation of my Conservative colleagues to the country with the Conservative Friends of Israel; a group who have played such a vital role in fostering our relationship and will do so in the future.
Israel is a great example of a country with a clear sense of its economic destiny: using tech and enterprise and being a great place to build truly global companies. We can learn from this – as we plot a course for Britain after Brexit. Double down on our ingenuity, be open to the world, and embrace the spirit of entrepreneurship.
We achieved a great deal on this trip, but there is still much more still to do. Israel and the UK are both scientific and innovation superpowers, and like the superheroes we see on the big screen, when we work together we can achieve almost anything.
Sam Gyimah MP, Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation
This article appeared in CFI Informed Magazine 2018/19. Read the full magazine here.