The Higher Education System in Israel: Issues, Characteristics and Unique Aspects

The Higher Education System in Israel: Issues, Characteristics and Unique Aspects
Prof. Uri Kirsch

The goal of this project is to examine various aspects that concern excellence evaluations of universities in Israel. Approaches and issues concerning excellence evaluation are universal subjects that are dealt with by many countries. Correct evaluations contribute to the promotion of excellence, while inadequate evaluations may evoke negative processes and even significant damage. In addition to these universal subjects, the project deals also with aspects unique to Israel, expressed in the results of the excellence evaluation. The existing approaches and methods can be classified in general as follows:

  • Quantitative methods to evaluate research, based mainly on publications and citation indices.
  • Qualitative evaluations – peer review, panels, evaluation committees, surveys, polls, and so on.
  • Combined methods that combine quantitative measurement methods with qualitative assessments.

Each of these methods has its own advantages and disadvantages, and they are all criticized, by both professionals and the subjects of the evaluation. The quantitative methods have significant defects and disadvantages that may create mistaken, biased and even misleading results related to various methodological defects, indices of limited usage, unprocessed data that include mistakes and errors, variance between the evaluated areas, inappropriate measurements and usages, and so on.

In an effort to examine these issues, the work presents the ratings of the first countries in the world in various areas, a comparative summary of Israel's position in the world, and a view of the universities in Israel based on various indicators, indices, and databases. The limitations of the indices are presented, as well as the results' biases under the influence of various assumptions.  The clear conclusion is that quantitative results in general, and their significance in particular, should be considered carefully.

Also presented are the results of a qualitative  assessment of studies in various areas in Israel, as these are reflected in the reports of international assessment committees that have operated in recent years, following the initiative of the Higher Education Council. A concise review is provided about the "influence" of universities, beyond academic achievement in research and teaching, which is expressed in their contribution to industry and technology. Innovative initiatives are presented to evaluate learning outcomes by creating valid indices.

The work presents a review of the university ratings, from the aspects of teaching and research. The ratings have a negative influence on the conduct of the institutions, which tend to ascribe greater significance to them than is possible on the basis of the data. The needed corrections and improvements are presented, as well as the results of the university ratings in Israel according to well-known international ratings.

The evaluation of research achievements for budgeting and funding purposes is discussed, which is a controversial subject. For selective funding, an appropriate evaluation system is required, whose operation involves high costs, mainly due to the variance between the institutions. The work presents several conclusions, resulting from an analysis of the Israeli, the British, and the Australian experience among others.


The chapters of this report include: 

  • The development of universities until the establishment of Israel. Major landmarks are described and various related issues are discussed.
  • The development of the system since the establishment of Israel. The development of the system consisting of universities and colleges is described. Data on the increase in the numbers of institutions and students are presented.
  • The higher education institutions. Characteristics and functions of universities, colleges and private institutions are described. Issues of governance, management, accountability, and independence are discussed.
  • The higher education system. Issues related to the system's structure, accessibility, academic quality, and resources are presented. Global as well as Israeli aspects are discussed.
  • Regulation. Issues related to the regulatory bodies – the Council for Higher Education (CHE) and the Planning and Budgeting Committee (PBC) – are described.
  • Budgeting and resources. International comparisons of the income sources of higher education institutions and data on the state funding of the institutions are described.
  • Academic status and national contributions. The academic status of the universities, based on quantitative criteria, and their national contributions are presented.
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