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Israel - Higher Education

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HIGHER EDUCATION


Higher education in Israel consists of universities, other degree-granting institutions, teacher-training institutions, regional colleges, and academic institutions from abroad that offer programs but confer degrees in their country of origin. The universities have an independent legal status as mentioned previously, under the administration of the Council for Higher Education.

There are seven major universities in Israel. The first three of these were founded before Israel's independence as a nation in 1948, including the Technion or Israel Institute of Technology founded in 1924 in Haifa, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, founded in 1925, and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot founded in 1934. Since 1948, four other institutions have been established: Bar-Ilan University in 1955, Tel Aviv University in 1956, Haifa University in 1963, and Ben-Gurion University in 1969 (Iram and Schmida).

In addition to the universities, there are other types of higher education in Israel, including an Open University, teachers' colleges, vocational institutions, and other tertiary educational institutions. The universities form a separate and distinct category from the "other" institutions. The distinctions are made in terms of the degrees offered by the various institutions and in terms of how each type of institution is funded. Thus, the seven universities grant bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in a variety of areas, including humanities, social sciences, law, medicine, engineering, and so on. They are funded exclusively by the Council of Higher Education.

The Open University offers only the bachelor's degree in humanities, social sciences, mathematics, and natural sciences. It operates under the authority of the Council for Higher Education and, according to the Council, enrolls more than 30,000 students (Schramm). The programs include individual study through written textbooks and other media, or alternatively, group study. Under the individual study approach, students work on materials as convenient and attend tutorial sessions every three weeks at centers located throughout the country. Under the group study approach, students do a considerable amount of work on their own using Open University texts and materials, but also attend weekly meetings at regional and municipal colleges or at sites associated with the seven major universities. The Open University draws students from every age group and sector of the population.

The Open University also offers college-level courses to students still in high school. A program approved by the Ministry of Education and Culture in 1999 allows high school students to enroll for university courses leading to an advanced high school diploma (Watzman). The additional work yields college credit and will demonstrate a student's ability to do college work. For this reason, advanced courses through the Open University may be used in place of the national Bagrut examinations for college admission. An important advantage to this program is that courses from the Open University do not require computer access as they are completed through special materials and telephone connections or the periodic meetings described above. Thus, these courses are available to everyone and offer equal opportunities to students regardless of their socioeconomic background. Moreover, there is financial aid available to high school students for enrollment in Open University classes, both through the Ministry of Education and Culture and through private foundations supporting the program.

The rest of the nonuniversity category, in addition to the Open University, includes seven institutions of higher education that award professional bachelor's degrees. There are also nine teachers' colleges, accredited by the Council for Higher Education, that offer the bachelor's degree in education. These two types of institutions are funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture, like the state and state-religious schools at the primary and secondary levels. Finally, there are 11 regional colleges supervised by the Ministry and the Council for Higher Education.

These regional institutions offer bachelor's degrees in particular areas of study. Their academic offerings are the parts of their programs supervised by the Council. They are intended to be centers for adult and continuing education and are part of an attempt to make higher education more accessible to the entire population of Israel. They are funded by the Ministry of Education and Culture, by local authorities, and by the Ministry of the Interior. From outside the country, there are extension programs offered by at least three institutions under the auspices of the Council for Higher Education. These programs award degrees outside Israel and are not essentially part of the national system of higher education.

The whole of the Israeli system of higher education cannot be easily compared to the systems of most western countries because of the nature of the student population and because the way programs are structured. Most students attend an institution of higher education after they serve in the military immediately following the completion of secondary education; the compulsory military service entails a term of three years for men and two years for women. As a result, typical undergraduates at colleges and universities in Israel are in their 20s. Almost half the population in this age range enrolls in some kind of higher education, a higher rate than that of many developed countries according to Iram and Schmida.

The structure of the programs also makes comparison difficult. Most bachelor's degree programs require three years of study and involve study in two departments selected by the students, providing they are admissible by department criteria. Professional studies in fields such as law and medicine begin immediately in the undergraduate program and require three to five years for completion, with the master's degree requiring three additional years, and the Ph.D. three years beyond that. Students seeking doctoral degrees typically plan their own programs of research and study.

There are a number of changes occurring in the system of higher education in Israel, focusing on the key issues confronting the other levels of education: equality of opportunity, excellence, and diversity. On the one hand, the goal is provide high quality of education and to have a structure that is efficient and effective. Both internal and external reviews have suggested the need for reform and rethinking of programs, as well as changes to the funding structure and control by the government. On the other hand, the goal of higher education in Israel is to make advanced education available to as much of the population as possible, a shift from a view of higher education as properly "elite" to a more egalitarian view of universal access to postsecondary education. This newer view requires changes in the government's role in higher education, the types of institutions that exist or that can be started and supported, and the amount of autonomy various institutions might have within the system. A number of proposals to address both goals are under discussion.


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