Higher Education Council Probes Fast-track PhDs

After Haaretz report on Yair Lapid, all university rectors must provide data .

The Council for Higher Education has asked the country's universities to immediately provide details on any students who do not have a bachelor's degree but who have been accepted for advanced degree programs.

The request follows Haaretz's report last week that Yair Lapid, the former TV anchorman who has entered politics, had been accepted for a graduate program in commentary and culture at Bar-Ilan University.

Yair Lapid university
Eran Wolkowski

Lapid was accepted without a bachelor's degree, even though the requirements include a BA with distinction. Bar-Ilan said Lapid had been accepted based on his journalistic and literary accomplishments. The Council for Higher Education, however, called the university's explanation "insufficient."

Bar-Ilan says another 20 people, including accountants, writers and journalists, had been accepted to the university's programs without meeting formal requirements.

Sources at the council said they were amazed at this development and the university's response. They said the university was showing disrespect for the significance of an academic degree.

In a letter to the rectors of all Israel's universities, the council announced that it was collecting information on all academic programs that lead directly to a master's degree.

Institutions were asked to provide answers to the following: "Are there academic programs at your institution on a direct track to a master's degree in which you do not require presentation of a bachelor's degree or in which one can begin studying before receiving a bachelor's degree or while studying for a bachelor's degree?"

The rectors were also asked about admissions terms for any such programs and about the duration of study programs.

"As a rule, there is no admission to a master's program at institutions of higher learning without the completion of a bachelor's degree first," the council said.

The only existing exception, the council said, was for students to take individual graduate level courses before they complete their bachelor's degree, but only if students are not considered regularly enrolled graduate students until they complete a bachelor's degree. This exception would only be granted for a period of months, or at most a year, the council said.

The formal admissions requirements for the program Lapid was accepted to include the following: "The program is designed for students who have completed their bachelor's degree studies with distinction and who have shown an ability for studies with a broad perspective."

Bar-Ilan also says the program is recommended for master's and doctoral students only, based on the assumption that interdisciplinary study will be effective only for a student who has studied one or two disciplines thoroughly at a bachelor's degree level.

In June, Lapid was accepted for the Bar-Ilan doctorate program, even though the formal requirement calls for two years of master's study. Bar-Ilan also says that after those two years of study, students interested in a doctorate would have to submit a doctoral proposal.

"Acceptance for doctoral studies that are research-related is only made based on the presentation of a master's degree with a [research] thesis as a precondition," the council said. "Under special circumstances, the acceptance process for a doctorate occurs concurrently with the completion of work on a master's."

According to a senior Bar-Ilan lecturer, "It is appropriate for the Council for Higher Education to finally deal with all the 'special' programs and the dispensations given in admissions to all the universities.

"The universities give [special] dispensation to certain groups, whether to people from the defense establishment or business in all kinds of shortened programs for various institutions ....

"The required tuition fees are high and in a way almost beg inferior academic requirements toward an abbreviated master's in one year. The other possibility is people who will reward the university in the future - senior officers and politicians who will reward the institutions while staffing key positions. This tendency exists at all the universities and harms academic standards."

Read this article in Hebrew.