Developments in Higher Education in Israel

Education in Israel is well regarded by international standards. Statistics show that in terms of academic degrees earned per capita, Israelis occupy an impressive third place in the entire world. A report released by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), found that in the year 2013, Israel stood second among all OECD nations in terms of the percentage of individuals over 25 years of age who had successfully completed university. It tied for this position with Japan and Canada.
Institutions such as Tel Aviv University, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev repeatedly occupy respectable spots in yearly rankings of global excellence in higher education.
These achievements are impressive considering the unique geopolitical situation and fraught history of this small middle-eastern state. Issues such as terrorism, violence, social inequality, ethnic strife and economic disparity are rife. Despite this, the country manages to maintain its excellent performance in education. Let’s take a look at how they achieve this and also examine some interesting developments as we go along.

Study Abroad Programmes

Top Israeli universities offer exciting study abroad programmes for students from other countries. As Israel is a popular tourist destination, international students are keen to spend a semester or more studying there so that they can avail of an immersive all-round cultural experience. What makes this a particularly attractive proposition is the fact that a good majority of the Israeli population is fluent in English. Further, higher education is more affordable in Israel than in countries like the USA. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University are some universally popular choices.
As a result of welcoming foreigners with open arms, there is a distinctly multicultural feel at university campuses and even in smaller cities and towns. This allows Israeli students to gain exposure to different cultures and ways of thinking. It also helps the nation as a whole to forge strong international links in areas related to science and technology and the arts as well.  


The IDF and Education

For young adults in Israel, life is very different as compared to peers in other developed countries. Young men between the ages of 18 - 21 and young women aged 18 - 20 are expected to dedicate themselves to a short period of compulsory military service with the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) once they complete their higher secondary education. In some instances, students are able to obtain permission and funding from the IDF for delaying their conscription so as to be able to study at university. In exchange for this, they are normally expected to undergo a longer period of military service.
During their time spent in the military, young people not only gain unique experiences and discipline but an all-round education in strategy, management, problem solving, paramedical skills, logistics and technical training in various specialist areas. The IDF employs technologies like immersive simulations and 3D printing as part of training modules for new recruits.
This means that when the average young person returns to university to resume their education, they are generally older than their counterparts in other countries. They are also equipped with a well-rounded and invaluable set of practical experiences and skills. As a result, they are more mature and serious about their education.

Integration At The University Level

One of the main challenges facing the educational establishment in this small middle-eastern country is that of integration at the level of tertiary education. Israel has a unique schooling system that has no parallel elsewhere in the world. At the school level, children may opt for one of four available tracks. These are the State, State-Religious, Ultra-Orthodox and the Arab streams. State schools use Hebrew as the medium of instruction but their curriculum is secular in content and approach. Hence they are open to students from all ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds. State-Religious and Ultra-Orthodox schools are meant for Jewish students with an inclination towards an education that is in keeping with Jewish religious beliefs. The latter is purely focused on scripture. Arab schools cater to children of that ethnicity and the medium of instruction is Arabic although they are also taught Hebrew and English.
When students from these diverse streams graduate from school they are not all on an equal footing. Ultra-Orthodox men and women rarely enter mainstream professions. Those from Arabic-medium schools find themselves at a disadvantage when entering universities where classes are universally conducted in Hebrew. These students are also exempt from compulsory conscription, which means that their overall outlook and set of life experiences differs vastly from that of their Jewish peers. Hence, education at the university level struggles to promote equal opportunities and achieve complete integration of these diverse groups.

Addressing Challenges

The government has struggled to tackle these various problems but has also managed to come up with some viable solutions. For instance, the Open University of Israel accepts students from all backgrounds and provides top-notch teaching on par with international standards of excellence. Since its inception in 1974, this distance learning institution has graduated thousands of students from undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in a variety of disciplines. During the year 2011-2012, the university launched its Soft Landing programme to facilitate the transition of Arabic-medium students into tertiary education through dedicated support services.
It is not only the government that has taken such initiatives to boost education. In fact, the private sector, too, has identified rich opportunities for viable interventions in this space. For example, local and internationally based essay writing services are offering assignment support to students struggling to cope with the transition. As in other parts of the world, this practice is frowned upon by the establishment. Many such establishments garner controversial press coverage. For example,
The Guardian recently covered a UK based essay writing service and gave statements from the company's spokespersons and from UK tutors on what they thought about such companies. Some companies like Lifesaver Essays cater to the American market, though they claim a huge number of their customers are from international markets including the middle east; whereas AU Assignment Help focuses largely on students studying in Australia. Students, for their part, have mixed opinions on such enterprises. Those with language problems find that professional assistance can help them overcome their initial phase of adjustment. Others are of the opinion that the practice encourages cheating and plagiarism. Overall, it cannot be denied that these developments represent innovative attempts to address existing and emerging challenges in the field of education.