Students listening to a lecture at an Israeli university.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The state of Israel’s higher education has steadily deteriorated over the past
decades, according to a new study released by the Taub Center for Social Policy
Studies in Israel on Monday, ahead of the beginning of the academic year next
The study, which is part of the Taub Center’s forthcoming “State of
the Nation Report 2013,” was conducted by Prof. Dan Ben-David as an update of
his previous research on the subject in 2008, and revealed that Israel’s top
universities have fewer senior faculty positions today than they did four
The figures showed that between 1973 and 2010, Israel’s
population increased by 133 percent, the student population in its research
universities expanded by 157% and the number of students in Israel’s entire
higher education system – including colleges – rose by 428%.
number of senior faculty in research universities in the country rose by only
9%, while the overall number of senior academic faculty in all of the colleges
and universities rose by only 40%.
Moreover, the size of the academic
faculty at the Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University has declined over the
past three-and-a-half decades. There were 17% fewer faculty positions in 2010 at
the Hebrew University than there were in 1973, and 26% fewer positions at Tel
Aviv University. The Technion- Israeli Institute of Technology has also lost
over a quarter of the faculty positions that it had nearly four decades
Between 1977 and 2010, the number of students per senior faculty
member more than doubled, from 12.6 students per professor to 26.1.
ratio of PhD students to professors rose from less than one student per faculty
member to over two students per professor, and the number of MA students to
professors rose from two to eight.
According to the report, universities
brought in external lecturers in rapidly increasing numbers to replace the
tenured and tenure-track research faculty and fill the teaching void.
1986, the external teachers represented 13% of the senior research faculty; by
2010, this ratio had risen to 46%. Almost half of the university lecturers today
are not on the research faculty.
“This low-cost solution to the public’s
declining interest in funding research universities has had two important
negative ramifications,” study author Ben-David said.
“The first is the
declining quality of instruction that students are receiving from individuals
not actively engaged in cutting-edge research,” he explained. “The second is
that many of these individuals may have intended to proceed along the research
route, but the increasing lack of tenure and tenure-track positions in Israel’s
research universities – relative to available graduates – has caused many to
either drop out of the research path or to find research positions
As far as Israeli researchers going abroad, the research also
showed that Israel is the country experiencing the greatest academic brain drain
to the US, with 29 Israeli scholars in the US for every 100 remaining at home in
2008, an increase from the 25 per 100 in the US four years earlier.
comparison, only 1.1 Japanese and 3.4 French scholars for each 100 remaining in
their respective home countries are in the US.
Ben-David said in a
statement that education is “probably a country’s most important infrastructure”
and that Israel is still blessed with some of the world’s top academic
institutions. These are “key to lifting up the country’s extremely problematic
primary and secondary education systems, and are essential for raising Israel’s
very low productivity levels that are so crucial for competing in a modern
“Over the past four decades, a much wealthier Israel
with much greater budgetary capacity than in the 1950s and 1960s has steadily
neglected its world-class academic institutions – and it has been increasingly
jeopardizing its future that is so dependent on Israel remaining at the cutting
edge,” he added.
“It is not too late to change direction, but that means
that Israel needs to rethink its national priorities and return them to the path
of its first decades – the path that eventually enabled the country to become
the ‘start-up nation’ that Israel needs to remain, if it is to survive in its
very hostile neighborhood.”