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 (HEIs) must be maintained as well as their independence and autonomy.
In the academic year 2018/19, 62 institutions of higher education operated throughout Israel, among them 8 research universities, the Open University of Israel, 34 academic colleges (20 of which were budgeted by the state and 12 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 2018/19, 306,600 students studied for a degree in the institutions mentioned above (including the Open University of Israel). Of these, 230,800 were undergraduates, 63,400 were Master’s degree students, 11,400 were doctoral students, and 1,000 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 of study 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 (CHE) 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 (CHE) and the Planning and Budgeting Committee (PBC) have put emphasis on a few initiatives to reform the Higher Education system in Israel.
The "New Campus Programme" for Entrepreneurship and Innovation
The CHE-PBC has invested great efforts in promoting innovation and entrepreneurship in the Israeli HE sector in the past years, as part of the national multiyear plan. Actions to promote innovation in teaching and to increase the number of students majoring in "high-tech" subjects are in progress. These top up the "New Campus" program which has been launched in the beginning of 2019.
The programme encourages entrepreneurship and innovation in Israeli academia by supporting the establishment and upgrading of entrepreneurship and innovation centres within the Higher education institutions.
Framework for promoting and funding Internationalisation in HE
As part of the current Multi-Year Plan for Higher Education, the CHE-PBC has launched a major program to promote internationalization within the higher education system in Israel. The program has four focus areas: 1) Attracting more international students to study in Israel, 2) Developing international skills for Israeli students, 3) Capacity building within Israeli higher education institutions, and 4) Deeper international research linkages. As part of the program the CHE-PBC has allocated funds to support the development of institutional strategies for internationalization and to build institutional capacity and infrastructure in this field. The website "study in Israel" was launched and is now being further developed as part of a “Marketing and Brand Strategy” for Israeli higher education. In addition, CHE offers a number of scholarship programs for international students and post-doctoral researchers.
Plan to expand access to higher education for Arab society
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.
Program to Increase Access for the Ultra-Orthodox Sector
In recent years, the CHE/PBC has 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.
Since the beginning of Erasmus+ in 2015, 18 Capacity Building projects have 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 4,000 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, 10 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 Calls 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 2007-2014, 117, 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 travelled from Israeli to Europe and 127 travelled 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 7 representatives of the various types of HEIs in Israel with different academic and administrative positions as well as a student representative from the Israeli National Student Union. In order to work in more depth on specific topics, the 2018-2020 HERE team was divided into two working groups, each dedicated to a topic currently highly on the agenda of the Israeli Higher Education institutions:
2. Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Academia.
According to these topics, several TAMs and local events were organized in Israel. The experts are working closely with policy makers from the CHE-PBC to create a synergy of activities to support HEI all over Israel. Following the TAM organised on Enterprise Education (13/2/2019) a new forum of leaders in Innovation and Entrepreneurship in HE was founded. This forum will be led by the CHE together with the HERE team and the Israeli NEO to provide personal training and pear-to-pear discussion opportunities for those involved.
The TAMs which took place in Israel focused on giving tools and removing barriers in the promotion of internationalisation in Israeli HE. This was achieved through various TAMs on different topics relating to the field. An example of this is the TAM which took place on 28-29.10.2018 on promoting English as a foreign language and the promotion of strategies for Internationalisation at Home. The HERE team also took part in local events, contributing to the Israeli Erasmus International forum in which most IROs in the Israeli HE system take part. For example, on 24.5.2018 a lecture on best practices in managing ICM was given by HERE expert Dr. Stavi Baram.
A good example of the high cooperation between the HERE team and the national authorities can be seen in the TAM which took place on 21.02.19 on The Creation of Institutional QA systems in Israeli HEIs and aligning them with EU standards. This event took place in full collaboration with the QA division at CHE.
Country Fiche on Israel's Higher Education System here