Israel's Student Union Demands Pledge for Better Teaching in Next Five-year Plan

The students also want better pre-university preparatory programs, as the Council for Higher Education starts work on its own plan.

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A class in a large lecture hall at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which hired the largest number of returning academics.
A class at Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which hired the largest number of returning academics.Credit: Tess Scheflan

The national student union has released its own five-year plan for Israeli higher education, trying to steal a march on the Council for Higher Education and its Planning and Budgeting Committee. The biggest change the students want is better teaching.

The union’s new leaders, elected at the end of November, have based their plan on data comparing Israel to other countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The idea is to pinpoint the areas were Israeli education is lacking.

The current five-year plan ends at the end of this year, and the Council for Higher Education will soon start work on the next plan.

The students’ plan covers three key stretches in a student’s career: before acceptance to higher education; during studies, with an emphasis on high-quality teaching; and after graduation, with an emphasis on helping students find work.

The students estimate the cost of implementing their plan at between 100 million shekels ($25 million) and 160 million shekels over the five years.

The biggest change the union wants is better teaching, partly by encouraging the use of technology. The attempts so far have not been enough, says Gilad Arditi, the chairman of the students union.

One suggestion is to establish a central research and development center for educational technology, creating standards and mapping the needs and existing technology for the schools.

Arditi says Israeli institutions of higher education do not understand that they are not only custodians of knowledge but are also responsible for life skills. Too many students leave the system disappointed, without their degree having changed them, Arditi says.

The union proposes a strengthening of the pre-university preparatory programs; the one at Tel Aviv University is even set to close.

The students’ proposal, based on the recommendations of a special committee, aims to create uniformity among the pre-university programs and parcel them out among the various institutions.

The idea is to make the system more accessible to underrepresented groups such as Arabs, ultra-Orthodox Jews and Israelis with Ethiopian roots. There are partial attempts to this end in the current five-year plan.

The students also want to open up other tracks for acceptance at colleges and universities, such as reducing the importance of standardized test scores and more reliance on the results of the matriculation exam, the bagrut.

A major problem in Israel is the long period, often five years or more, between a student’s high-school graduation and enrollment at a college or university. One reason is that most Israelis do military service.

The union wants to create alternatives for soldiers before they apply to university, especially online courses. This would also help in the many cases where students switch majors once they’re in university and need extra time to graduate. Also, introductory courses in different fields could help students choose their major to begin with.

Another proposal is to expand opportunities for students who must also work. This could include programs with more classes on Fridays or at night, or shorter, intensive programs. Most Israeli students work during their studies, so the system needs better solutions, the union says.

The system needs better links with the job market — students need more experience during their studies that will help them find work later, the union says. The system must take some responsibility once a student has graduated, it adds.

The union also wants student representative on the Planning and Budgeting Committee; this request has been rejected for years.

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