Twin tracks

The OU opened in 1969, which makes it almost a chronological twin of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The latter opened as the Negev Institute for Higher Education a few years earlier, had a few other antecedents, including roots in the Dimona nuclear research institute and became a university in 1969. Labour Party Prime Minister Harold Wilson promised that the Open University would support the spread of technology and in Israel it was an interest in science and technology that helped to drive the project to develop BGU. In 2010 it opened a nuclear engineering program in conjunction with the nuclear power plant in Dimona and it has long had a close relationship with Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor in the eastern Negev desert.

The hope of Israel’s first PM, David Ben-Gurion, (a centre-left leader, pictured) was that it would become ‘A Hebrew Oxford in the Negev’, helping to colonise the desert area. The OU also sought to address new needs, not compete with other universities.

The OU had relatively little contact with other universities whereas, by contrast, BGU  received academic sponsorship, teachers and administrators from the Haifa Technion, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot.

A report in the Times Higher 22/29 December 2011 indicates that BGU has, like the OU in the past, been criticised for the left-wing views of some of its staff. Its department of politics and government is committed to ‘good citizenship and community activism’ but a majority report of the Council for Higher Education in Israel on the department has expressed concerns about balance. A minority report argued that a demand for blance runs counter to the principle of academic freedom.

By considering its contemporaries at home and abroad the distinctiveness of the OU is made more evident

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