Education Shake-up Could See Israeli Universities Lose Monopoly Status on Doctorates

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Should Israel get its first de facto private university? (illustration)Credit: Dreamstime

Israel’s universities are outraged by a Council for Higher Education plan that would allow colleges to offer doctoral programs, which until now have been the province of universities only. The council says the step would bring Israel into line with other countries, but the universities say research would suffer.

The IDC campus in Herzliya.Credit: Courtesy

While few universities have said so outright, it is believed their real concern is the almost-certain likelihood that the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya will be able to turn its new doctoral studies into a full-fledged doctoral program, which would make it Israel’s first private university.

The controversy between the council and the universities began about five months ago, when the council decided to establish new five-year programs combining a master’s and PhD in the humanities or social sciences. According to the council, this would improve the structure of doctoral programs and put them in sync with international standards.

The council has been considering the matter of colleges awarding PhDs for some time, after IDC Herzliya applied for permission to award a PhD in law, in cooperation with the Hebrew University. One of the conditions the council set is that any institutions wishing to hold doctoral programs must do so under the aegis of one of the universities.

According to the council’s new program, some 15 to 20 outstanding students will take part in the new program initially. Each will be given a scholarship and stipend amounting to approximately 60,000 shekels a year (about $15,800), which would make the program more like graduate schools in the United States and bring order to a field that is said to be rife with complications.

According to sources familiar with the issue within the Council for Higher Education, some of the universities said they will not cooperate with colleges in PhD programs. When the council realized this, it issued clarifications of the programs’ goals – among them “examination of the possibility of cooperation and collaboration among institutions of higher education including the involvement of institutions that are not universities”; and “examining criteria for an institution so it will be able to grant a doctorate in a particular area, in some form or another.”

The council also noted that proposals for such doctoral programs would not be examined if they included only universities.

A senior figure at one university said in response to the clarifications, “Now it is clear that the program’s goal is to give into pressure by elements in the system that are seeking to award doctorates when it is clear that, as the years pass, if these programs succeed, these institutions will no longer need universities alongside them – as has now been determined by the program – and will be able to offer doctorates alone.”

A senior figure at another university said universities are measured by the quality of research, and that PhD students conduct a great deal of this research, while “from the point of view of the colleges, it is more a marketing need ... this is a vast difference.”

Another senior official in the realm of higher education said that the council’s clarification that the programs include colleges are the result of “pressure from private institutions.”

An official on the council told Haaretz that the universities’ response constituted a “betrayal of the values of excellence and blocking institutions, without checking as to whether they have reached excellence on their own.”

IDC Herzliya declined to discuss the matter, but released a statement saying the council had determined “that only an institution of higher education that was at the average level of the universities would have the right to join the programs. IDC Herzliya is the only non-university institution of higher education that was recognized as a research institution that meets the above criteria.”

The Committee of University Heads said the council’s only consideration should be promoting quality research in Israel in light of competition worldwide. “Academic collaborations are the independent province of the academic authorities and the individual considerations of each institution,” it said.

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