The vision for the higher education system in Israel is to achieve excellence in teaching and research, be positioned at the forefront of global science, enable full access to higher education and to train a qualified academic workforce in response to the needs of society and the economy. In addition, the principles of academic freedom in higher education institutions must be maintained as well as their independence and autonomy.
In the academic year 2014/15, 63 institutions of higher education operated throughout Israel, among them 7 research universities, the Open University of Israel, 34 academic colleges (21 of which were budgeted by the state and 13 non-publicly-funded colleges), and 21 academic colleges of education (teacher-training colleges).
According to the data collected by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, in the academic year 2014/15, 307,285 students studied for a degree in the institutions mentioned above (including the Open University of Israel). Of these, 235,300 were undergraduates, 59,695 were Master degree students, 10,880 were doctoral students, and 1,410 studied for a diploma.
All HEIs can offer Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programs but currently only research universities offer PhDs. The structure of the academic degrees recognized in Israel is: Bachelors, Masters and PhD degrees. The undergraduate degree takes between three to four years depending on the field and requires between 120 and 160 credits. A standard Master’s degree takes two years and consists of 28 to 36 semester teaching hours, depending on the study track, with a thesis or without a thesis. A standard doctoral degree takes 4 years (the actual average is 5 years) and under the rules of some institutions requires attendance valued at least at 12 credits, writing an independent scientific research dissertation or publishing a collection of reviewed articles, with theoretical and methodological references and conclusions.
The structure of studies in Israel is based on two semesters in one academic year, autumn and spring, each of which consists of 13 or 14 weeks. Some programs allow study during a more concentrated summer semester. In these cases, the calendar year consists of 3 semesters.
The Council for Higher Education is the body authorized by law to deal with all matters of higher education in the country and has been granted the power to carry out its functions in this regard.
Over the past two decades, the higher education system has undergone some dramatic changes; one manifestation of this has been in the varying numbers of students attending higher education institutions. In the 1990s, the system was characterized by a rapid and significant growth in the number of students. The heavy demand for academic studies, and the opening of new higher education institutions in response to this demand, resulted in an annual average growth rate of 8.1% in the overall number of students, and in an even higher average annual growth rate in undergraduate students – 8.7%.
In contrast to the vast growth of the 1990s, the turn of the new millennium was characterized by a significant decline in the student growth rate, on average about 3.5% per year, similar to the growth in the number of undergraduates.
In view of the expectation that the decline in student numbers will continue, the Israeli system of higher education is now moving from a policy of expansion to one of strengthening and consolidation of existing institutions. Present challenges include bolstering, empowering and academically developing existing institutions; addressing issues of supply and demand; improving cooperation between Israeli and foreign institutions; improving teaching quality and continuing to promote excellence in research.
During the past decade, the Council for Higher Education and the Planning and Budgeting Committee have put emphasis on a few initiatives to reform the Higher Education system in Israel.
Additional funding is provided to academic institutions to support Arab students. In light of the complexity and importance of the issue, the PBC has set several preconditions which institutions must meet in order to receive budgetary aid. By using various financial incentives to institutions, aiming at academic and social programs, this initiative realized the implementation of different tools and programs and has successfully doubled the number of Arab students in Higher Education institutions.
In recent years, the CHE/PBC have invested significant efforts in order to increase the ultra-orthodox community’s access to Higher Education. The Ultra-Orthodox community in Israel faces both pedagogical and cultural difficulties, which hinders its integration into regular Higher Education campuses. In order to assist with the process of integration, designated preparatory program and academic frameworks were established under the responsibility of recognized academic Higher Education Institutions throughout the country and in various fields of study. These frameworks offer Bachelor’s programs, whereas advanced degrees are offered as part of the regular programs taught at Israeli Higher Education Institutions.
In addition, in light of the economic gap of the ultra-orthodox community, a special program offering scholarships and loans was established.
The “Achievements Program” was established in 2002 in order to expand access to higher education among residents of the periphery, as a collaborative effort between the Council for Higher Education, the Gruss Fund, the Rothschild-Caesarea Foundation, the Aluma organization and local authorities. The program operates in 31 centers in the periphery and in about 20 centers in Arab localities. During the year, achievements coordinators provide services to more than 20,000 young people in all the communities taking part in the program. The program helps more than 3,000 new students each year to join the ranks of academia and pre-academic programs.
Over the course of the previous decade, the number of senior faculty members in Israeli HEIs declined significantly due to the reduced number of tenure track positions and ‘brain-drain’. Consequently, the number of part-time teachers who instruct core courses increased, the student-faculty ratio increased significantly, the average age of faculty members increased, the number of teaching assistants decreased significantly (leading to reduced tutoring hours), and a considerable load was placed on some faculty members who supervise advanced students (hindering those students’ training and research).As part of the multiyear plan for the higher education system for 2010/11–2015/16, a target was set for the student-faculty ratio for universities and colleges. On average, this target is 21.5 students per faculty member at the universities and 35 students per faculty member at the colleges. This reflected the need to recruit approximately 2,000 new senior faculty members in total in the coming years, of which about 1,600 were to be recruited as senior faculty members in universities (800 to replace retiring faculty and 800 as new faculty) and about 400 to be recruited as senior faculty members in colleges. As of 2014, the number of senior faculty members is approximately 4,650 members in universities and approximately 2,000 members in colleges.
An additional policy initiative that the PBC decided to undertake in order to increase the number of academic faculty members is the Israeli Centers for Research Excellence (I-CORE). One of the program's main objectives is to promote the returning of excellent researchers back to Israel, as a central mean of fortifying the research capabilities and the academic faculty of the HEIs. Each scientist who joins an I-CORE receives generous research and equipment grants, and is exposed to the leading network of scientists in his/her field in Israel. Within the program, 88 scientists joined the research faculty in Israeli institutions, almost 90% of whom arrived following a research or a post-doctorate period in one of the Top 50 institutions in their field.
Since the beginning of Erasmus+ in 2015, 12 Capacity Building projects were already been selected for funding. The projects differ in their topics from Curriculum reform to inclusion and multiculturalism, internationalization, social responsibility and more.
To date, under the Erasmus+ programme, almost 2500 mobility grants for students and staff to travel to Europe and 1,400 mobility grants for students and staff to travel to Israel were awarded to more than 30 Israeli institutions.
In the Erasmus Mundus Joint Master Degrees, 7 Israeli Institutions are involved mainly as associated partners.
Also in the Jean Monnet activities, Israeli Institutions are very active and currently one Center of Excellence, two Chairs, several Modules and one Network are active.
Tempus and Erasmus Mundus
Israel joined the Tempus programme in 2008. In the first Call Israel participated in only 1 project involving four HEIs from Israel as partners. In the last Tempus Call in 2013, 7 projects were selected for funding while 3 of them were coordinated by an Israeli institution. Overall, in the 5 Call for Proposals that Israel participated in, 16 projects involving more than 30 Israeli institutions were selected for funding.
Israeli institutions were also part of the Erasmus Mundus programme and participated in all 3 of its Actions.
Action 1: Three Israeli universities participated and offered Joint degree programmes:
i. University of Haifa participates in the "European Masters in Law and Economics" that was selected in 2009 and coordinated by Erasmus University Rotterdam.
ii. Technion Israeli Institute of Technology participated in the "Molecular BioPhotonics Masters Programme" that was selected in 2012 and coordinated by Ecole Normale Superieure de Cachan and Institut d'Alembert.
iii. The Hebrew University participated in the "NeuroTime Doctorate Programme" that was selected in 2011 and coordinated by the University of Strasburg.
In 2007-2014117, Israelis received scholarships to study and/or teach in Action 1 Joint Programmes.
Action 2: Eleven Israeli institutions were involved in 2 Action two consortia: EMAIL and EDEN. From 2007 until 2013 a total of 577 students and staff traveled from Israeli to Europe and 127 traveled from Europe to Israel to study or teach.
Action 3: Four projects were selected with the participation of 7 HEIs from Israel.
The Israeli HEREs team comprises of 7 representatives of the various types of HEIs in Israel with different academic and administrative position and a student representative. In order to work in more depth on specific topics, the HEREs were divided into working groups each dedicated to a topic currently highly on the agenda of the Israeli Higher Education institutions: 1. Internationalization, 2. Digital Learning, 3. Promoting gender equality in academia and 4. Teaching Excellence.
According to these topics, several TAMs and local events were organized in Israel:
On January 12th, 2016 a national Workshop on Internationalization was organized in Beit Berl College. The focus of the conference was to provide comprehensive understanding of Internationalization within Israeli Higher Education, including aspects of research on the topic, the outcomes of the Erasmus Impact Study and the outcomes of Tempus IRIS project.
On January 28th, 2016, a national TAM was held on Fostering Teaching Excellence in Higher Education: Implementation and Evaluation in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The conference hosted Dr. Terry Maguire, Director of the National Forum for the Enhancement of Teaching & Learning in Higher Education in Ireland and was organized in cooperation with Israel's forum of Centers for teaching excellence. Participants in the TAM were exposed to various methods of implementing teaching reforms in HE.
On April 14th, 2016 a small roundtable TAM was organized on the topic of National Internationalization Policy: facilitating the development of internationalization in Higher Education on a national level which was held in the Council for Higher Education and targeted specifically the management of the Council. The TAM contributed to the better understanding of the trends and challenges of national internationalization policies and the importance of a clear definition of aims and goals that the Council wishes to promote in this way.
On June 21st-23rd, 2016 a national TAM was held on the topic of Building a National Platform for Open Digital Courses: Implementation, Accreditation and Quality Assurance. This 2 and a half days event involved two European experts: Dr. Terry Maguire and Prof. Catherine Mongenet, the head of the FUN national digital learning platform in France. Dr. Maguire discussed best practices in digital learning and teaching excellence as well as the Irish experience in this regard, while Prof. Mongenet who presented the process of development and use of their national platform and lessons learned.
On January 17th, 2017 a national TAM was organized on the topic of Gender Equality in Higher Education.
On June 14th, 2017 a national TAM on Internationalizing Higher Education Institutions was held in Kfar Maccabiah and hosted Mr. Hans-Georg van Liempd from the European Association for International Education (EAIE) who provided practical tools and shared knowledge on how to successfully develop international strategy and implement international activities.
As many of the topics the HERE team are working on coincide with the topics on the agenda of the Council for Higher Education, the HEREs were consulted on numerous occasions on topics such as internationalization and digital learning during the development of the new Multi-Year plan of the CHE.
Country Fiche on Israel's Higher Education System here