The IDC Difference
By Alan Rosenbaum
“Professor Reichman built this place 25 years ago because he felt there was a need for an alternative innovative academic option in Israeli higher education,” says Jonathan Davis, Vice President for External Relations at IDC Herzliya, and head of the university’s Raphael Recanati International School. Tanned, relaxed, and looking far younger than his seventy years, Davis explains the IDC difference, in his office on campus.
“Professor Reichman wanted to build an academic institution that stands for humanistic Zionism, and at the same time not to be afraid to say that we believe in striving for excellence in academia and nurturing future leaders." It is a Zionism, says Davis, that respects minorities within the framework of a Jewish and democratic state, and is the Zionism of the Jewish democracy of Israel – “a Zionism of being human to each other, based on the philosophy of Herzl, Jabotinsky, Ben Gurion and Begin."
That, explains Davis, is the spirit of IDC Herzliya. It is expressed in many different ways at the institution: from the exemption of psychometric exams granted to IDF combat officers, to the two hours of elective academic credits awarded for those serving eleven days of army reserve duty, to the annual barbeque hosted by the school for students who serve miluim (army reserves).
Founded in 1994 by Professor Uriel Reichman, a noted Israeli legal scholar, IDC Herzliya is a private educational institution entity which is not subsidized by the government and is dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in education and research. Davis heads the International School, which includes 2,000 students from 90 different countries. Overall, the university boasts an enrollment of more than 7,000 students.
The International program encompasses full undergraduate and graduate degrees, all taught in English, from Psychology, Entrepreneurship and Business to Computer Science, Government, Sustainability and Communications.
While the majority of foreign students come from North America, there are a significant number of students who hail from Europe and Latin America, China, and Africa. The university also has a special program that brings students from African countries such as Rwanda, Somalia, and South Sudan, whose families were persecuted and even killed. This, explains Davis, is another example of the humanistic form of Zionism practiced at IDC.
says that 60% of the School’s international students make Aliyah, and he adds, “It’s an unconventional Zionist tool to make Israel a better country.” He has high hopes for those who remain in Israel permanently, and says, “We want the 60% that stay here to become productive citizens. Let them become members of the Knesset. Let them change things in this country and help make it a better place.”
Those who return to their communities overseas, he says, can become great ambassadors for Israel regardless of their religion or creed. “A 3-year degree in Israel,” says Davis, “where a student has the opportunity to weigh the pluses and minuses of Israel, is an experience that is far greater than a short 2-month program.” Davis points out that the gathering of students from around the world, both in formal educational settings as well as informal ones provides a useful educational advantage.
“One of the really great benefits for students and professors is that they can learn from each other and understand the national character of people who come from these different countries. People from different national backgrounds have different approaches to psychology, economics, and other subjects. “To a great extent,” he says, “the professors are in a situation where they can learn things that they couldn’t learn from textbooks.”
reveals that one of the secrets of the success of IDC’s International School is the level of care and concern provided by the school’s administration. “It’s TLC-tender loving care,” he says. “We have a full-time person whose job is to take the person by the hand to solve all of the bureaucratic problems of Israel that the student might face when they come here alone.”
Davis’s staff is fluent in many languages, including English, French, German, and Spanish, and he added, they are sympathetic to the needs of foreign students. “Our staff feels the soul of the students and identifies with them.” Davis says that surveys taken each year have consistently shown that IDC’s interpersonal relations between students and staff are among the highest of universities in Israel. This is epitomized by the fact that IDC does not have a faculty club on campus, where professors eat apart from the students. "There is one cafeteria, and students stand in line with trays together with the professors. The student is our partner.”
Davis, a native Californian, came to Israel in 1969 to study on a one-year program at Hebrew University while a student at Columbia University, stayed, and completed his degree in Israel. He was a lone soldier, served in the army for three years in a paratrooper reconnaissance unit in the Yom Kippur War, as well as in the First Lebanon War. Davis presently serves as a Lt. Colonel Reserves, and is proud of that fact that the international students have served under his command on reserve duty. His desire and interest in helping foreign students undoubtedly stems from the difficult conditions that he faced, as a single immigrant in the early 1970s. “I’ve come full circle,” he says. “I have fun doing what I do.”
In addition to the Raphael Recanati International School, IDC Herzliya encompasses ten different schools with a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs. MA programs are offered in Business, English, Health Management, Diplomacy, Counter-terrorism, and numerous other subjects. The Harry Radzyner Law School is offering a new Master’s program in Law, Technology, and Business Innovation, which is the first of its kind in Israel. The Abba Eban Institute for International Diplomacy is revolutionizing Israel’s foreign policy while strengthening its international image.
IDC, says Davis, provides its students with a practical toolbox of skills that they can put to use in their work lives. As examples, he cites the school’s entrepreneurship club, which helps startup students develop practical skills, and the debating team, which teaches students to communicate and state positions in a normative, civil fashion. “One of the differences between us and other universities,” says, Davis, “is that we want our students to hit the ground running when they finish, in order to get a practical approach to life. We have a startup and entrepreneurial approach.”
Participation of the students in the annual Herzliya and Counter-Terrorism Conferences also provide a great experience for the students and introduces them to the movers and shakers of Israel. Hundreds of IDC Herzliya graduates, says Davis, are doing graduate work at top schools around the world, including Harvard, Yale, and Columbia, and at leading institutions in Europe, such as Oxford and Cambridge.
IDC also offers exchange programs with 120 universities around the world, and third-year students can spend a semester overseas. IDC is certified by the Council of Higher Education in Israel, and the Council has authorized IDC Herzliya to award PhD degrees, which will make it the first private university in Israel. Students come from throughout Israel, from the Galil, Negev, and Israel’s center, as well as from the periphery.
Davis adds that IDC offers special scholarships to students from economically deprived homes, as well as the Ray of Light program which enables highly motivated young people with great academic potential, who come from a weaker socioeconomic background, to acquire an academic degree in computer science, accounting, or economics and entrepreneurship.
It also offers scholarships and monthly stipends to over 50 Ethiopian students in the Israel at Heart program. Another vision of Prof. Reichman to always keep ahead of the game is the development of an Innovation Center where Neuroscience, Computer science, Communications, Psychology, AI, Big Data, Media lab, high-tech, and industry will sit under one roof and work with students and faculty.
Undergraduate or graduate, international or local, IDC’s goals for its students are the same, says Davis. “Our job is to make the students into the best of the best for the benefit of the state of Israel. We are here to do good for the country.” Twenty-five years and 27,000 alumni later, the country agrees.