It was in 1969 that the government of Israel decided to create a university in the Negev Desert. The campus was initially located in a former immigrant hostel, with the dean of students operating from a Bedouin tent on the lawn, though additional land was acquired shortly afterwards. When the country’s first president, David Ben-Gurion, died in 1973, the institution was officially named the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. A later law also established an Institute for Desert Research in honour of his memory.
An historic event took place on the BGU campus in 1979 when Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin came to sign a major peace treaty. A decade later, a Gate of Peace was built in commemoration.
Led since 2006 by Rivka Carmi, the only woman ever to serve as president of an Israeli university, BGU is a leading research university with a particular commitment to green and alternative energy and broader environmental issues. The main campus is in Beer-Sheva, the largest city in the Negev, and the university is a major partner in the nearby Advanced Technologies Park. Other campuses are to be found at Sede Boqer, the kibbutz to which Ben-Gurion moved after retiring from politics, and the coastal resort of Eilat.
Specialist multidisciplinary institutes are devoted to biotechnology, nanoscience and solar energy as well as Israeli and Jewish literature and culture. A company known as BGN Technologies is responsible for handling patents, knowledge transfer and an extensive programme of international partnerships across a wide range of scientific fields, including cyber security, epidemiology, genetics, robotics and water resources. In 2006, the university hosted the first in a biennial series of conferences on deserts and desertification, the first conference sponsored by the United Nations ever to be held on Israeli soil.