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'Never Judge a Country by its Size'

When Zhong Weichao, a doctoral student at Harbin Institute of Technology in Northeast China's Heilongjiang province, started a yearlong exchange in Israel five months ago, he soon thought you can never judge a country by its size. 

"Until I got here, I didn't realize the academic environment would be so dynamic. We have classmates and visiting scholars in our lab who are from Italy, Spain, Romania and so on. It's really an international team," the 27-year-old told China Daily on Wednesday. 

Zhong is researching aerospace engineering at Israel Institute of Technology (known as Technion), one of the country's leading technology and scientific research institutes. It has three Nobel laureates on its staff. 

"The coolest thing here is that the environment is very open. You can challenge the teacher by asking whatever questions interest you, and they are capable of and willing to answer them all. And the technology you are engaged in is world-class," he said. 

Constrained by the global financial crisis, Europe and the United States are cutting their education budgets for international students. 

Israel, however, is looking for more promising Chinese students like Zhong. Each year, 100 million shekels ($26.13 million) is expected to be invested in attracting Chinese students, said Manuel Trajtenberg, director-general of the Israeli Council for Higher Education and the Planning and Budgeting Committee, during a visit to China in early May. 

According to Trajtenberg, Israel has a clear plan for realizing that goal: first, bring Chinese post-doctorate researchers to Israel; then bring Chinese undergraduate and graduate students to study in Israel; and finally, strengthen collaboration in scientific research together. 

Technion has about 20 Chinese students, undergraduates to post-doctorate, on the campus studying different majors and researching various fields. The institute sees great potential to expand that number, said Boaz Golany, Technion's vice-president for external relations. 

Since 2010, Technion has granted scholarships to eight Chinese high school students each year to begin their undergraduate studies in Israel. 

"We have worked closely with Tsinghua University, Peking University and so on, and take proactive measures to enhance the cooperation (for more to come)," he said. 

Other Israeli universities have recently started offering bachelor's and master's programs taught in English, which provides more opportunities for Chinese students. 

Chances to learn 

As a leader in research into areas of engineering and natural sciences, Israel's technologies, such as irrigation in agriculture and seawater desalination, are attractive to Chinese students. 

And China's fast-growing economy may arouse the interest of Israeli students. Chinese has become one of the most popular foreign languages among Israeli students, said Eyal Zisser, a professor at the University of Tel Aviv, where Israel's first Confucius Institute was set up in 2007. 

Jiang Xueqin, deputy principal of the Affiliated High School of Peking University, led a study tour to Israel in early May. He was impressed by the Israeli students and understood what makes the country a well-known "innovative powerhouse": the fact that Israeli students are encouraged to ask questions. 

"It's not simply raising your hand and opening your mouth. It entails a radical revamping of how you relate to yourself and to the world around you," Jiang told China Daily. "Shyness is