Higher Education in Israel.

AuthorSwirski, Shlomo
PositionDetailed data on colleges and universities in Israel - Statistical Data Included

Until the late 1980s, the Israeli higher-education system consisted mainly of a small number of universities -- three founded before 1948, and the rest in the 1950s and 1960s. Over the past decade, the system has both expanded and diversified, embracing several types of academic institutions differentiated by their formal status, the range of programs they offer, and the extent of state funding they receive.

The Council for Higher Education, the state agency that oversees the Israeli higher-education system, recognizes four types of academic institutions: universities, occupationally specialized colleges, regional colleges, and private colleges.

Universities: Israel has six institutions that award bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees in a wide variety of disciplines: the Haifa Technion (1924), the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1925), Bar Ilan University (1955), Tel Aviv University (1956), Ben Gurion University of the Negev (1969), and Haifa University (1974). A seventh institution, the Weizmann Institute of Science (1934), awards only Masters and Ph. D. degrees in the natural and physical sciences.

An eighth institution, the Open University of Israel, awards bachelors degrees and was accredited in 1996 to offer its first masters degree, in computer science. The guiding principles of the Open University are more universalistic and egalitarian than those of the other universities: students are accepted without screening and the teaching system is tailored to the needs of working people. The Open University provides a "second chance" for those who do not meet the other universities' requirements and offers a variety of courses in adult education, reflecting the lifelong learning philosophy. The Open University confers very few degrees relative to the size of its enrollment.

The universities have the broadest variety of study and research programs, offer their researchers the most prestigious paths of advancement, and command primacy at the Planning and Budgets Committee of the Council for Higher Education, the agency that apportions funding for academic institutions and regulates their growth. The universities receive the largest share of the state budget allocation earmarked for higher-education institutions.

Colleges that specialize in specific occupational disciplines: Israel has thirteen teachers' colleges that confer teaching degrees (B. Ed.) and eleven that specialize in other occupational fields and award degrees in technology (B. Tech.) or disciplines such as music and dance, administration, fashion, and optics. The Council for Higher Education has accredited these colleges to award undergraduate degrees in their respective fields. The colleges do not provide research tracks for their lecturers and students, and their budgets are limited commensurably.

The teachers' colleges have been undergoing a process of academization. The Ministry of Education expects most of them--with the exception of the haredi (ultraorthodox) seminars--to offer curricula leading to a degree in education - B. Ed.-by 1999 (Ministry of Finance, 1996 [c]: 84). In 1995/96, about half of the students in colleges for teachers and preschool teachers were working toward academic degrees (Ministry of Education [a] 1997: 53).

Regional colleges: Twelve regional colleges operate in peripheral areas of the country. Most began as continuing education programs connected with the universities; in the early 1990s, it was decided to turn them into autonomous academic institutions that would focus on teaching toward bachelors degrees in the social sciences and the humanities. The regional colleges are undergoing accreditation by the Council for Higher Education. As of the writing of this report, two have already been accredited - Tel Hai College and Jezreel Valley College; a third, Sapir College, is well along the way toward accreditation.

Private Colleges: Private colleges offer undergraduate programs in sought-after disciplines such as economics, law, and business administration. The first private college, the College of Management, was accredited in 1986 by the Council for Higher Education to award bachelors degrees in bookkeeping and marketing. In 1992, this institution was authorized to open a law school.

The private institutions charge higher tuition fees than institutions supported by public budgets. In 1996/97, for example, Tisom College charged $20,000 while the universities charged $2,500 (Guri-Rozenblit, 1996: 21).

In contrast to the occupational and technological colleges, which specialize in disciplines traditionally perceived as outside the universities' ambit and which only recently were given academic accreditation, the colleges of law and administration reflect the trend towards privatization in fields traditionally thought of as the exclusive realm of the universities.

Extensions of foreign universities: Additional paths toward academic degrees have opened since the early 1990s--local branches of foreign universities, foremost American and British, that offer bachelors, masters, and doctoral degree programs. The foreign institutions are not subject to the regulation of the Council for Higher Education. Pending legislation would require these institutions to obtain operation permits from the Council for Higher Education. The Ministry of Education, for its part, recognizes degrees awarded by these institutions in determining wage grades in the public services.


The present system of governance of Israel's higher education was established in 1958, under the Higher Education Law. The law created the Council for Higher Education - a statutory corporation whose members are appointed by the President of Israel upon recommendation of the Cabinet, and whose chairperson is, ex-officio, the Minister of Education and Culture. The Council is empowered to grant academic accreditation to institutions and to specific study programs within those institutions. It is through the excercise of this power that the council shapes the structure of Israel's higher education.

Until 1995, the Higher Education Law stipulated that at least two-thirds of the Council's membership be "persons of stature in the field of higher education" - a clear reference to Israel's universities. In 1995 the law was amended so as to enable the emerging types of institutions of higher education to receive representation on the Council (Higher Education Law, Amendment No. 10, 1995). The amendment not withstanding, the Council is still first and foremost, a representative of the universities. On the eighth Council, whose term ended on March 1997, sixteen out of the twenty-five members were representatives of universities, the remainder being representatives of the "general public."

In the ninth Council, the incumbent one, the share of university representatives climbed to seventeen out of twenty-four--70 percent. The other representatives include, for the first time, three representatives of academic colleges--the Rubin Academy of Music and Dance in Jerusalem and the College of Management, and the Levinsky Teachers' College. The regional colleges are not represented. The Council is chaired, by law, by the Minister of Education and Culture.

Judging from its composition, the Council for Higher Education has been slow to adjust to the changing structure of Israel's system of higher education, where a growing proportion of the undergraduate population attends professional colleges, private colleges and regional colleges. According to a Ministry of Education forecast, at the beginning of the twenty-first century 40-50 percent of undergraduate students in Israel will be attending colleges rather than universities (Wilenski, 1996: 81).


In 1974, the Council created the Planning and Budgets Committee charged with planning and allocation of the higher-education budget. This board elaborates a total budget for institutions recognized by the Council for Higher Education and apportions this budget among them. As the Council's executive agency, the Planning and Budgets Committee determines the direction and pace at which the system will develop.

University representatives hold a majority on the Planning and Budgets Committee, as on the Council for Higher Education. Four of six members of the Planning and Budgets Committee are university professors and two are public figures prominent in economic affairs, business, or industry. Two of the professors represent the humanities, the social sciences, law, or education; the other two speak for the natural sciences, engineering, medicine, or agriculture (Council for Higher Education, 1995: 15).

The academic colleges, although newly represented on the Council for Higher Education, are not represented on the Planning and Budgets Committee.

Traditionally, Israel's universities have been funded primarily by the national budget. The budget, appropriated by the Finance Ministry, is administered by the Planning and Budgets Committee. The Committee operates for this purpose as an independent Ministry; in fact, Higher Education has a budget book of its own, separate from that of the Ministry of Education. The Planning and Budgets Committee drafts the budget in consultation with the various universities, and then negotiates and bargains with the Finance Ministry and with the Knesset Finance Committee. Once the budget is approved, the Planning and Budgets Committee apportions it among the universities and the other academic institutions. Apportionment is done on the basis of defined criteria: The teaching budget is set in consideration of the number of expected graduates at each institution, and a sum is awarded for each graduate commensurate with his or her field of study and the level of degree sought. The research budget is determined in view of each institution's research output (Council for Higher Education, 1996 [a]: 77).

The 1997 Israel state budget for higher education amounted to NIS 4.15 billion (roughly $1.2...

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