As more than 300,000 higher education students start the Israeli academic year on Sunday, the Council for Higher Education is considering substantially reducing the number of colleges.
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The move was prompted by the collapse earlier this year of the Lander Institute in Jerusalem, a private institution that, although overseen with regard to its academic standards by the council, was not government funded and closed with debts of about 20 million shekels ($5.3 million).
Israel’s 56 colleges are distinct from the country’s seven major universities. (With the addition of the Open University, which has open admissions and more flexible requirements, and the Ariel University in the West Bank, there are a total of nine universities.) The country’s public colleges receiving government funding are subject to state-mandated tuition scales, but the private colleges do not receive government funds and so are not limited by what they can charge.
“Our lesson from the collapse of the Lander college is that we need to examine the smaller institutions whose financial stability is in doubt,” Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron, the vice chairwoman of the Council for Higher Education, told TheMarker. “The council needs to initiate such an examination, and not wait for the collapse of the institutions and the abandonment of students.”
Even though the Lander Institute was privately funded, when it closed the education council was forced to provide the students with other options, said Messer-Yaron.
The country’s public colleges were established beginning in the 1990s, in an effort to make higher education more accessible in outlying areas of the country. In addition, a number of private colleges have been set up where tuition fees are generally higher as they are not limited by the government, unlike at universities and public colleges (where the full tuition for studies toward a bachelor’s degree for the new academic year is 10,228 shekels).
The council is looking to merge the operations of some of the smaller colleges – both public and private – with larger institutions, in the process reducing the number of institutions of higher learning from 65 to about 55 or even fewer, she said.
In recent years, efforts have already been made to merge teachers’ colleges at the same time as their oversight is transferred from the Education Ministry to the education council.
The council is currently investigating academic standards at one particular college, Messer-Yaron said, but the intention is to examine the situation more generally – mainly at colleges with small student bodies where there are doubts over whether they can remain financially stable in the long term. “At this stage, we are identifying institutions whose business model is not sufficiently stable, in order to work with them in the direction of merging operations with larger institutions,” she said. There are major questions over the future of institutions with fewer than 1,000 students, she noted, adding that the council will be taking a closer look at four to six colleges in all.