The Israeli Council for Higher Education is expected to meet soon to discuss the request of the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya to change its status from a college to a university.
Sources in the higher education system say the move is expected to be approved, particularly since a professional committee recently concluded that the center meets all the standards required of a university.
Last year the IDC received permission from the council to launch PhD tracks in law, psychology and computer science, but was not permitted to change its name.
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The higher education council's Planning and Budgeting Committee, also known by its Hebrew acronym Vatat, which is responsible for the planning aspects of the higher education system, is expected to oppose the IDC’s request out of concern for the broader consequences for the system, but the council can approve the request anyway, just as it approved the establishment of Ariel University over the planning committee's objections.
The IDC has long operated as a private college, charging tuition that starts at 42,000 shekels (almost $13,000) a year, (compared to the 10,200 shekels the public universities and colleges charge). Yet the higher education council and the planning committee have never discussed the need or implications of opening a private university in Israel, whose research universities are considered to be of high quality, despite their low tuition, which is heavily subsidized by the state.
If approved, the IDC would become Israel’s first private university. While this would increase the competition among the country’s universities, its primary impact would be on the private colleges, which also charge tens of thousands of shekels in tuition each year. The IDC would have a huge advantage because for a tuition similar to that of a private college, the IDC would be granting a university degree, which is considered more prestigious than a degree from a college.
Of course, with such high tuition, the main beneficiaries would be students from wealthy families (though some IDC students qualify for scholarships). Recognizing the IDC as a university would boost the international status of the institution, its faculty and graduates, as well as benefit Herzliya, which could promote itself as a university town.
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Sources in the higher education system expressed additional concerns about the move’s effect on Israeli academia, including possible unfair competition with other colleges and universities, and harm to research and teaching in fields with low commercial potential. The IDC might also substantially raise its tuition once it becomes a university.
The IDC initially sought to change the name of the institution to Reichman University, after the center’s founder and president, Prof. Uriel Reichman, who is expected to retire at the end of the year. Only three Israeli universities are named after people: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, named after Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion; the Weizmann Institute, named after the first president, Chaim Weizmann; and Bar-Ilan University, named after Rabbi Meir Bar-Ilan. There are public colleges named after donors, such as the Sami Shamoon College of Engineering in Be’er Sheva or the Azrieli College of Engineering in Jerusalem.
The decision to change the name to Reichman University was made by the center’s board last year without consulting the higher education council, subject to the approval of the Companies Registrar. The council objected, with council sources saying it was illegal. The IDC, for its part, said it should be allowed to call itself a university, since it was a research institution authorized to grant doctorates.
But given the council’s opposition, the Companies Registrar rejected the IDC request for the name change. The IDC appealed, but in the end decided, in discussions with the higher education council, to seek the council’s formal approval.
The council appointed a committee in February, headed by its former deputy head, Prof. Nachum Finger of Ben-Gurion University. After its deliberations, the members unanimously agreed that they’d been “persuaded that the Interdisciplinary Center is suited to be a university,” and that the standard of instruction and research were at university level. “Having the Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya join the field of research universities in Israel will bring honor to the state and its higher education system,” the panel concluded.
The Planning and Budgeting Committee then looked into the institution’s financial viability. The IDC ended 2019 with a loss of 14.5 million shekels and had accumulated a 200-million-shekel deficit. On the other hand, it has assets worth 700 million shekels. In any case, it isn’t clear what the committee's authority might be on this issue, since the IDC doesn’t get any state funding.
In 2018, when the higher education council first considered the IDC’s request to open doctoral tracks, it had conditioned its approval on Reichman’s resignation, since the council's regulations limit the tenure of university presidents to 12 years, and Reichman at that point had served 24 years. In the end, however, the institution’s PhD programs were approved.