Academic journal article College and University

Higher Education in Israel: An Overview

Academic journal article College and University

Higher Education in Israel: An Overview

Article excerpt

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 (, 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, 72.9 percent social sciences, 59.7 percent mathematics, statistics, and computer science, and 58.4 percent engineering and architecture.

Structure of Israeli Education

In order to begin a bachelor's degree, students must have completed twelve years of high school and the BAGRUT (High School Leaving or Matriculation) examinations. In addition, entrance exams ("Psychometric" exams), are generally required.

* Undergraduate: Study usually lasts three to four years and students are in class 20-30 hours a week. Law is studied for 3.5 years and students do not need a previous bachelor's degree to enter the program. Engineering programs last four years, while architecture takes five years to complete. The Israeli degree is very focused and offers marginal studies of a general or liberal arts nature.

* Graduate study: The second degree is considered the professional level and lasts two years, although in practice may take longer. Popular fields include business, education, clinical psychology and social work. A thesis is generally optional for those not intending to go on for doctoral studies.

* Post-graduate: The doctorate takes anywhere from five to ten years to complete. Many Israeli doctoral candidates in the humanities and social sciences go abroad for their degrees, while those in the life and physical sciences usually do their Ph.D. in Israel and go to the U.S. or Europe for post-doctoral work.

Student Profiles

Students in Israel come from various ethnic and religious backgrounds. They can be Jewish, Christian, Greek Orthodox, or Muslim, and some are third-country nationals.

The average Jewish student tends to be older, post-army, 20-21 years old. He or she may be married and working full time while going to school. For recruiting purposes, it is important to note that 80 percent of the target audience interested in study in the U.S. is not reachable through the local high schools, but rather through offices like Fulbright, through educational fairs, advertising, and special outreach presentations at local universities. The other 20 percent, mainly the Christian and Muslim high school students, do not do army service and therefore may be targeted directly at the high school level. The Druze, a minority group within the country, also serve in the Israeli Army.

Local Study Habits

Israeli study habits are different from those in the United States. Students are used to less outside readings and more flexibility in deadlines. If they miss or fail final examinations, they may be able to repeat them during specially-scheduled make-up periods over the summer. They begin applying to local universities not more than six months before the academic year begins in mid- or late-October. They are used to a maximum tuition of about $3,000 a year for both undergraduate and graduate study, although some new private institutions' tuition is much higher. Israeli doctoral candidates are used to being fully funded from the first year of their doctoral program.

Trends and Profiles

The U.S.-Israel Educational Foundation (Fulbright) was established in 1956 to promote educational exchange between the United States and Israel. Nearly 2,500 grants have been awarded to Americans and Israelis over the years in various programs. A full description of the various exchange programs administered, such as Fulbright, Hubert Humphrey, and new partnership grants, can be found on the Foundation's Web site:

Out of the over 92,333 queries handled in 2002 (including Internet visits to the StudyUSA section of the Fulbright Israel Web site), the StudyUSA center (one of the U.S. Department of State's authorized "EducationUSA" overseas advising centers), saw about an equal number of undergraduate and graduate students.

Regional preferences for studying in the United States include New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, Miami, Washington, D.C., and Chicago. One of the main reasons is pure economics: Although living expenses in these areas are known to be high, El Al Airlines and the Israeli government maintain offices in these cities and offer qualified Israeli students legal work opportunities once they have entered the U.S. on an F-I visa.

What types of study requests does the Fulbright Foundation receive?

* Short-term or non-degree study in fields such as English language, culinary arts, sound engineering, jazz or acting;

* Architecture and engineering undergraduate transfer students;

* Biotechnology;

* Business and economics;

* Film;

* Communications;

* Sports scholarships;

* Popular graduate majors include: LLM, clinical psychology, industrial/organizational psychology, MBA, music, video editing, advertising, East Asian studies, international relations, computer sciences, architecture, social work, mass communications, pre-med, life sciences.

Visa Refusal

Due to a relatively stable economy, the visa refusal rate has been very low over the past few years (pre-SEVIS). Problems sometimes exist for students applying for English language or community colleges, but this is the exception. The new U.S. visa interview regulations and their effect on access to study in the U.S. should be gauged to see if this changes in the coming year.

"Hot" Issues in Israeli Education

* Undergraduate Transfers: The local engineering and architecture registration licensing board is regulating more closely the minimum number of credits earned both in Israel and the U.S. before they will accredit returning students' programs. Over the past few years, there has been an increase among Israeli architecture "Handassaim" (two- to three-year postsecondary professional diploma track programs offered in a number of technical fields) who look to complete or transfer to NAAB (National Architecture Accrediting Board) accredited schools to complete their bachelor of architecture degree.

* Overseas Campuses in Israel: The U.S., UK, Australia, South Africa and the New Independent States (NIS) (Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan) are setting up branches or affiliates of their campuses at an alarming rate and in some cases, with little regard for ethics and issues of accreditation. For every one good program, three questionable programs crop up, causing confusion and mistrust among students and education officials alike. Internal conflicts exist between the local Ministry of Education and The Council for Higher Education on how and whether to accept such degrees. While the Ministry may approve such degrees for job advancement purposes, the Council may not accept those same degrees for academic advancement.

U.S. institutions that are approached to set up campuses in Israel would be wise to first check with a stateside regional accreditation body regarding off-shore accreditation issues. Then contact the Ministry of Education and/ or The Council for Higher Education, as well as the local Fulbright Foundation-they may be able to give you further guidance.

One outcome of the setting up of such programs may be a decrease in the number of students applying to study in the U.S. in certain fields, since more U.S.-style degrees are now available locally and arc recognized in some cases.

* Competition from other countries: The last two years have seen an increase in interest in study not only in the UK, but also Canada, and most recently, New Zealand and Australia. These countries' more flexible admission and visa requirements for international students, lower tuition costs in some cases, and high profile in the media and through college fairs, have made them a tempting target for Israeli students who find the U.S. admissions' and student visa regulations overly bureaucratic. Our Center's difficulty to raise our profile, due mostly to lack of funds and budget, has taken place at the very moment where other countries have their government's full support to attract the lucrative Israeli educational market.

Student and Scholar Exchanges With Israel

The Fulbright program is one of the main educational exchanges that exists in Israel today. Yet each of the seven universities, and a growing number of new colleges, maintain highly developed and diversified short- and long-term direct exchanges with the United States and other countries. It would be best to contact the Israel Academic Web site ( for further information.

[Author Affiliation]


Evelyn Levinson is Associate Director of Marketing and Recruiting Initiatives in the International Affairs Center, University of South Florida. She is the former Overseas Advisor and Director, Educational Information Center, U.S. Israel Educational Foundation/Fulbright in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Arona Moskowitz Maskil is Coordinator of Student Advising at the U.S. Israel Educational Foundation/Fulbright in Tel Aviv, Israel.

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