Israel to Spend $118 Million to Bring in Foreign University Students

To compensate for falling enrollment rates in universities, the Council for Higher Education has drafted a plan to draw in foreign students, particularly from Asia

David Bachar

Hoping to draw foreign students to compensate for falling enrollment at Israeli colleges and universities, the Council for Higher Education has drafted a plan to that end.

The program seeks to focus on students from Asia, particularly China and India, and later on Jewish students from North America. The council’s research indicated that students in the Far East have a more positive view of Israel and of studying here than do their U.S. and European counterparts.

The council plans to spend 430 million shekels ($118 million) on the program. The aim is to more than double the number of foreign students in Israel, to 24,000 from 11,000 today.

Yet the plan is being discussed against the background of the case of Lara Alqasem, a would-be graduate student from Florida who has been in detention at Ben-Gurion International Airport since October 2 over alleged ties to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, despite having been issued a student visa.

The heads of Israel’s universities have said that Alqasem’s detention, which has received worldwide coverage, is likely to significantly harm the universities’ efforts to attract international students.

The Council for Higher Education has set attracting foreign students as a central goal for years, and two years ago declared it a crucial step that would significantly benefit Israeli higher education.

The plan, which was drafted before Alqasem’s detention, says that absorbing more foreign students will raise the academic level of Israeli schools and improve the reputation of Israeli higher education abroad. It would be an important revenue stream while at the same time improving Israel’s overall image and ties with the Jewish Diaspora.

As TheMarker has reported, undergraduate enrollment in Israel is entering its fifth year of decline, after 20 years of steady growth.

When the fall semester begins, next week, 306,600 students will be enrolled at degree-granting institutions in Israel — 1,000 fewer than in 2007. Over two-thirds, 230,800, are undergraduates — around 100 fewer than in the 2017-18 academic year and 7,000 fewer than in 2014.

Today, some 1,130 foreign undergraduates are studying in Israel. The council’s program hopes to increase that number by 30%. In addition, it seeks to double the number of foreign master’s students and to increase the number of foreign doctoral students by 60% and postdocs by 120%.
The plan sets as a long- term goal having foreign students account for 14% of master’s students, up from the current 3%, and 24% of all doctorates, up from the current 6%.

The council’s research showed that barriers to drawing foreign students included security concerns  and the fact that most study programs aren’t set up for foreign students, primarily because they are conducted entirely in Hebrew. Many Israeli instructors said they would feel uncomfortable lecturing in English, the council said. Furthermore, potential foreign students are concerned about Israel’s high living costs, the difficulty in finding rental apartments and the difficulty in obtaining a work visa for partners and spouses.

Program funds would go toward developing degree programs in which the language of instruction is not Hebrew, as well as enabling foreign students to come for short periods and enabling more Israeli students to study abroad in order to build connections.