The COVID 19 Crisis has led to a swift shift to online leaning in all 61 Higher Education institutions in Israel catering to approx. 310,000 students. The current multiyear policy plan of the Council for Higher Education[i] includes among other priorities a Flagship program for the enhancement of Digital Teaching and Learning. This initiatives had established important infrastructures that assist the HEIs now in this challenging transition.
Thanks to the extraordinary commitment of the Higher Education institutions' leadership, the academic and administrative staff, an immediate response to the crisis and the measures taken by the national authorities was made possible. The second semester of the current academic year will be taught online until Universities and Colleges will be able to reopen their doors[ii].
Research activities, as long as they comply with the regulations of the Ministry of Health will be continued. Moreover, innovative initiatives that use the academic knowledge, research capacity and infrastructure to fight the pandemic and its consequences were launched. For example: The Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education has approved a 4 Million USD research grant program focused on slowing down the Coronavirus pandemic and generating a better understanding of the disease it causes. The grant framework, coordinated by the Israel Science Foundation (ISF), is a joint venture of the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education and philanthropic foundations including Yad Hanadiv, the Klarman Family Foundation, The Russell Berrie Foundation and the Wolfson Family Charitable Trust.
In order to navigate the Higher Education Sector in these times of crisis, commitment, leadership and challenging decisions within very short time were necessary.
The Council for Higher Education reached an agreement with the Ministry of Finance, allowing the academic institutions full continuity of their financial commitments towards their employees. Moreover, Higher Education institutions demonstrate their responsibility towards their students, investing great efforts to allow them to successfully complete the semester without major delays as well as trying to find financial solutions and assistance to students in need.
International Offices in numerous HEIs, assisted by the Department for Strategy and International Affairs of the CHE and the National Erasmus+ Office, engaged personally to assist International Students to arrange travel to their home country or to find a safe place to stay in Israel for their quarantine.
The Israeli National Student Union launched a solidarity program, linking between students and non-profit organization to ease finding relevant volunteering opportunities across the country.
While these efforts allowed continuity and assistance to the extent possible, many challenges remain. The academic leadership, students and their representative unions, as well of course the national authorities remain concerned about the successful completion of the running spring semester. A specific concern pose final year exams, as online examination and evaluations are new to the academic institutions.
For now, also the mid-, and long-term implication of these crisis are difficult to predict. How will this crisis impact the upcoming academic year? In Israel, the academic enrollment is based on psychometric entrance test that was postponed until further notice, which might affect the enrollment rate to Higher Education institutions.
Still unclear is, how this global crisis will impact international student movement and therefore also the recently launched Study in Israel initiative as well as the design of the new EU Flagship programmes in Higher Education and research? While the clear outcomes of the crisis and the measures taken are still unclear, it is already evident, that this global crisis has stimulated a local and international discussion on Higher Education, Teaching and Learning and the role of academia in addressing global challenges.
[i] The Council for Higher Education (CHE) is the official authority for higher education in Israel and determines policy for the higher education system. The Planning and Budgeting Committee (PBC) is responsible for funding the Israeli system of higher education. The PBC defines the regular budget allocated for the academic institutions as well as their development budgets, while considering social and national needs and priorities.
For more details: https://che.org.il/en/about-us/
[ii] With the exception of a few specific courses, that require physical presence.