IDC Herzliya Is on the Road to Becoming Israel’s First Private University

Previously only the country's universities could decide which fields to grant master's degrees in, but now IDC has been given the authority to do just that

The campus of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, 2014.
Daniel Bar-On

The Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, a private college founded in 1994, received approval from the Council for Higher Education on Tuesday to grant master’s degrees without prior approval, paving the way for its possible recognition as the country’s first private university.

The council had previously allowed only the country’s universities the authority to decide the fields in which they will grant master’s degrees, while colleges have had to get advance approval for every master’s degree that they plan to offer. The Interdisciplinary Center has now been given that authority as well, and the council is in advanced talks to grant it permission to confer doctorate degrees. Contacts on that subject have been ongoing for several years but more progress has been made recently and the expectation is that approval will come soon.

Although the terminology varies around the world, institutions with graduate programs are generally more likely to be called universities, and Israel’s universities all have doctoral programs. In 2014, the Council for Higher Education decided to allow the country’s colleges to offer doctoral degree programs if they met certain conditions, but the Interdisciplinary Center has been the only college in Israel that has been in negotiations with the council on the subject.

Sources at the country’s universities were critical this week of the prospect that IDC, as it is known, would offer Ph.D.s, with one source saying the step would “cheapen” the significance of the doctoral degree. The sources attributed the council’s engagement with IDC on the subject to weakness in the face of pressure and said that granting such permission to IDC could pave the way for other colleges to seek similar permission and blur the distinction between colleges and universities in Israel.

“An institution that grants a doctorate needs to be an institution with long-term research activity in a number of fields,” a senior source at one university said. He warned of the prospect of a Ph.D. “mill.”

Sources in the higher education system have seen IDC’s bid to grant advanced degrees as an important step in the college’s obtaining the status of a university.

The Council for Higher Education said that based on a 2013 resolution, institutions of higher education are authorized to submit requests for autonomy in opening programs leading to master’s degrees subject to a series of academic, budgetary and legal criteria. “At its meeting [Tuesday] the Council for Higher Education considered the request of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya to be granted autonomy for master’s degrees and found that it met the criteria set in that resolution,” it said.

IDC was founded as a private college run by a nonprofit organization. It receives no public funding but has been under the oversight of the Council for Higher Education. According to its website, it now has 7,000 students. Tuition there is about 40,000 shekels ($11,500) a year, nearly four times the tuition at the country’s public universities, which is 10,066 shekels.

IDC, which compares itself to leading private universities in the United States.