Higher Education in Israel: An Overview

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Based on an article originally written by Evelyn Levinson in April 1998 and updated in September 2003 by Evelyn Levinson and Arona Moskowitz Maskil, this article presents some background information on higher education in Israel-its educational system, students, educational trends, and hot issues facing local and stateside international educators.

History of Higher Education in Israel

Until 1948, the first stage of Israeli higher education consisted of only 1,600 students and three universities: the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, The Weizmann Institute of Science, and The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. All three were research-oriented and German influenced.

The second stage developed between 1948 and 1975. The number of students grew to 50,000, and four new universities were established: Tel Aviv University, Bar Ilan University, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, The University of Haifa, plus the Jerusalem Rubin Academy of Music and Dance and Teaching Institution(s). The Open University of Israel was established in the 19805.

Up to 1989, the philosophy of the universities was that higher education was possible only for those students who were capable academically and financially to enter their institutions. This elitist approach to education, combined with the growing number of academically-qualified entering bachelor degree students that began in the 19908 (75,000 student in 1990,148,000 in 1998, almost 207,000 in 2000), changed the profile of Israeli higher education and led to the establishment of new "colleges" to meet the demand of qualified students. These colleges are accredited by CHE, The Council for Higher Education (www.che.org.il), the local governing body that accredits all new institutions and programs and authorizes them to award academic degrees. The Council for Higher Education accreditation ensures that uniform quality control standards are maintained, and that bachelor degrees received in colleges are based on the same academic rigors employed by the local universities. It should be noted that the Israeli Ministry of Education certifies degrees for employment qualifications only.

Undergraduate students are entering Israeli colleges in everincreasing numbers (44 percent of all undergraduate students in 2000/01), thereby allowing the seven universities to focus more on graduate- and research-level studies. The breakdown of almost 207,000 students enrolled in undergraduate studies in 2000/2001 includes:

* Universities: 113,750

* Colleges: 38,016

* Teacher Training Colleges: 19,698

* Open University: 35,225

The first local colleges to open were affiliated with a certain university, and the final degree was granted by that university. Today, CHE accredits 22 teachers' training colleges, 8 regional colleges that have local university affiliations, 23 independent regional colleges, 7 universities, and the Open University.

The most popular majors at the universities remain the applied sciences, architecture, engineering, arts, behavioral sciences, computer science, education, humanities/social sciences, and law. The regional teaching colleges feature the following majors: education, technology, social sciences, arts, and computer science. Majors at the independent colleges focus mainly on business, economics, law, and computer science.

A survey conducted by an independent study group in 2000-01 showed that 78 percent of all students studying for an undergraduate degree in Business Administration, 67 percent in law, and 87 percent in the fields of education, are enrolled at various local colleges. This represents an increase of 19.2 percent from years 2000 to 2001 in students pursuing an undergraduate degree at a college. In comparison, the number of students pursuing undergraduate degrees at universities increased by only 4.2 percent that same year. University enrollment remains relatively high in the following fields: 94 percent medicine and life sciences, 84 percent humanities, 72. …