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A New Vision for a New Era

The University of Haifa recently launched its new vision, which rests on a commitment to social and environmental sustainability in accordance with the 17 objectives defined by the United Nations as sustainable development goals

Dan Zeller
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The University of Haifa campus on Mt. Carmel. Photo University of Haifa
The University of Haifa campus on Mt. Carmel. Photo University of Haifa
Dan Zeller
Promoted Content

The U.N.’s sustainable development goals relate to a wide range of issues, including the struggles against hunger, poverty, and climate change; ensuring good health and wellbeing; egalitarian education; and gender equality.

“The 21st century is presenting us with a long list of challenges,” affirms University of Haifa’s President, Prof. Ron Rubin. “In order to confront these challenges, universities must make the transition from discipline-based research to multidisciplinary research grounded in broad issues and bringing together researchers from diverse fields. This is the underlying principle behind the University of Haifa’s new vision: multidisciplinary research that seeks to address the main challenges facing humanity.”

“The University of Haifa’s advantage is that it combines research in fields of social sustainability and environmental sustainability. The struggle against hunger includes genetic studies on enhancing the properties of wheat, studies into climate change, and studies relating to poverty and inequality. The impact of climate change cannot be examined without considering its social ramifications. Our local geography – one of mountain, city, and sea – forms the backdrop for research into issues relating to the interface between humans, society, and the environment,” explains University of Haifa Rector Prof. Gur Alroey.

The future is multidisciplinary

The university’s first step toward realizing the new vision of sustainability was to establish three multidisciplinary centers addressing horizontal issues. The first is the Center for the Study of Inequality; the second is the Center for Brain and Behavioral Study; and the third is the Center for Environmental Research. Each center brings together dozens of researchers from diverse fields, departments, and faculties.

The Center for Brain and Behavioral Study encourages a holistic approach. Photo University of Haifa

The Center for the Study of Inequality, for example, includes researchers in political science, social work, education, public policy, law, and other fields. Under the auspices of the center, a laboratory of the Central Bureau of Statistics will be established to provide researchers with up-to-date data as a basis for proposing ways to narrow social gaps.

Brain researchers often confine their studies to molecular processes in the brain, while behavioral researchers focus solely on human behavior. The Center for Brain and Behavioral Study will encourage a holistic examination of the impact of processes in the brain on human behavior, including such aspects as post-trauma, depression, and learning disabilities.

The Center for Environmental Research will facilitate ecological studies in such fields as geography, evolutionary biology, maritime studies, and so forth.

Broad education for PhD students

Another important change being introduced at the University of Haifa in order to address tomorrow’s challenges is the establishment of the Bloom School of Graduate Studies. The school marks a significant change in the way research students, and particularly doctoral students, study in preparation for their PhD. Currently, the track to a PhD is essentially an individual one, and interactions are largely confined to the specific department.

The Bloom School of Graduate Studies will provide an academic framework for all research students across all fields. Research students will be encouraged to participate in interactive sessions structured around content areas related to cross-disciplinary encounters such as global issues of migration, personal, social and environmental wellbeing; competencies and skills related to performing as a researcher. The Bloom School of Graduate Studies will also facilitate outward-facing research in collaborative learning spaces, encouraging research students to participate in writing marathons and present their research progress to the larger community of students from a range of disciplines.
Prof. Lily Orland-Barak, founding Dean of the Bloom School of Graduate Studies, explains: “Being a researcher in the 21st century means being involved in issues of concern to society. This requires a broad education that goes beyond specific disciplines. Researchers need to know what the most important issues are in other fields, too. The Bloom School of Graduate Studies is seeking to change the traditional paradigm of ‘the lonely researcher’ to one which acknowledges the importance of shared constructed knowledge in learning communities.”

Studying climate change in the Mediterranean 

A recently launched project at the University of Haifa tackles issues related to climate change and our changing ocean environment, utilizing the eastern Mediterranean Sea as a natural laboratory to inform us about the responses of marine systems to global changes. The five-year project, entitled “The Helmholtz Eastern Mediterranean Sea Centre – An Early-Warning Model-System for our Future Oceans” (EMS FORE), is led by a core team of 17 scientists and 12 graduate students from the Leon H. Charney School of Marine Sciences at the University of Haifa and Germany’s GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research in Kiel.

Students from the Leon H. Charney School of Marine Sciences at the University of Haifa tracking climate changeCredit: Hagai Nativ

Climate change, including global warming, is the predominant environmental challenge facing humanity at present and in the future. The marine environment covers about 70% of the earth’s surface. Oceans buffer the Earth’s temperatures and climate systems and oceanic changes (storms, rising sea-levels, tsunamis and more) greatly impact coastal areas globally. Oceans also provide essential oxygen and food, and their importance in providing protein sources for growing human populations will increase as desertification and changes in land-use patterns are negatively impacting land-based agriculture. The impact of global warming on oceans has enormous implications for a sustainable future. Despite this, current models face difficulties in predicting exactly how oceans will be influenced by the constant rise in temperatures.

According to Prof. Ilana Berman-Frank, the director of the Leon H. Charney School of Marine Sciences, the unique characteristics of the eastern Mediterranean Sea can help us anticipate and prepare for the future: “Model projections suggest that climate warming enhances surface ocean stratification and diminishes nutrient supply to the sunlit surface ocean, thereby altering the structure and functioning of marine ecosystems. Increased intensity and frequency of extreme events such as droughts, floods, and surface ocean heating have unknown consequences for biogeochemical and ecosystem processes. The Mediterranean Sea is warming much more rapidly than other bodies of water due to its unique physical characteristics and its water circulation patterns. In many respects, the present responses of the Mediterranean Sea to increased temperatures and carbon dioxide, offers a preview to future responses in the world’s oceans.”

The project will utilize world-class facilities, a range of advanced technologies for ocean observations, experimental manipulations, research vessels, long-term moorings and deployments of underwater vehicles, novel cameras and chemical sensors, and marine ecosystem models to integrate the data and predict future oceanic responses. Multidisciplinary marine research will examine seafloor processes and sedimentary records to inform about the past and water column processes to tell us about the present. Moreover, modeling will be developed to examine what the future will look like for the Mediterranean Sea and the global oceans.

EMS FORE also promotes the training and career development of young scientists and offers a platform for other collaborations and related projects. Prof. Eric Achterberg, head of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre’s research team, emphasizes: “The work in the eastern Mediterranean will provide important insights into the impacts of climate change on our subtropical oceans, which cover approximately 40% of our global oceans. A healthy and sustainable ocean is key for the livelihoods of billions of people and the well-being of our planet.”

For more information about the University of Haifa and its programs,