Higher Education Regains Its Footing as Government Funding Grows

Total state funding this year for the country's seven universities is NIS 5.6 billion, while the 21 publicly funded colleges are getting a collective NIS 1.35 billion.

Lior Dattel
Lior Dattel
Lior Dattel
Lior Dattel

State funding for Israel's universities and colleges has increased by NIS 385 million for the current academic year compared with the 2011-2012 school year.

Total state funding this year for the country's seven universities is NIS 5.6 billion, while the 21 publicly funded colleges are getting a collective NIS 1.35 billion (private colleges receive no state funding ).

The boost in government support for the colleges and universities is part of a six-year plan in support of Israel's institutions of higher learning, through which the government has committed to NIS 7.5 billion in total additional spending.

The plan is currently in its third year. The funding formula has gone through substantial changes and now rewards excellence in teaching and research at the universities as measured by a variety of parameters.

At the public colleges, the lion's share of increased support is being provided for improvements in instruction in engineering and technology programs as well as for institutions in outlying parts of the country.

Sources in higher education say it is only now that most of the universities are beginning to stabilize financially and feel the impact of the program. The universities have also been facing huge deficits due to their pension obligations.

TheMarker has learned that the collective actuarial deficit, which includes the value of future pension payments to faculty that the university has not set aside, is more than NIS 26 billion, as of the end of 2011. This is about NIS 2 billion more than prior estimates from the Finance Ministry and the Council for Higher Education.

The largest of the deficits is at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where it has become a burden on the school's operations. The university is setting aside 20% of its budget for its pension liabilities.

With regard to the six-year plan to boost university and college funding, senior higher education officials have expressed concern that their budgets could be cut in the future or that implementation of the plan could be curbed, thereby hurting the quality of research and efforts to bring back Israeli scientists living abroad.

The Council for Higher Education is also giving priority to increased funding for the colleges over the universities by at least one measure. Even though their budgets are much smaller, state funding for the colleges has increased by 12% over last year while at the universities it was just 4% higher. For his part, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar commented: "The higher education system has gotten back on track after years of budget cuts."

Although satisfaction was expressed by sources at the colleges over the budget boost, sources at the universities were less sanguine. The committee representing the heads of the country's universities said the plan simply returns their institutions to where they were before what they called the "lost decade" for higher educatio.

Hebrew University is getting the largest state allocation of any university this year as measured in nominal terms - actual numbers of shekels - at NIS 1.36 billion for the 2011-2012 academic year, but in percentage terms it is just 4% more than last year.

State funding at the Weizmann Institute of Science declined this year by 3.3% to NIS 408 millio. . Relative to its size, however, the Weizmann Institute still gets the most state funding.

Among publicly funded colleges, the University Center in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, which has the largest student body and the largest faculty of all the colleges, also has the largest budget this year, NIS 122 million, not including NIS 50 million Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz has promised the school.

Ben Gurion University.Credit: Eli Hershkovitz

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