Higher education funding nearly doubles in 10 years

Number of students up 10% in decade, with increase in Arab enrollment more than 100%

Picture: Tel Aviv University students on campus. (photo credit: TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY)
Picture: Tel Aviv University students on campus.
(photo credit: TEL AVIV UNIVERSITY)
Funding available for Israel's universities and colleges has almost doubled over the past decade, according to figures published by the Council for Higher Education (CHE) ahead of the new academic year.
Since 2010, the official authority for higher education in Israel said, the higher education budget has increased from approximately NIS 6.9 billion ($1.95b.) to NIS 11.8b. ($3.34b.) in 2020 – the largest budget to date. Funding is expected to reach NIS 12.5b. ($3.54b.) by 2022.
The significant increase in funding reflects the substantial growth in the number of new students in higher education during the same period.
According to estimates, 313,600 students will pursue higher education courses across Israel's 61 educational institutions during the 2019/20 academic year.
The estimated figures represent more than a 10% increase in student numbers since the 2009/10 academic year, when 283,850 students were enrolled in higher education.
During the coming year, 236,450 students are expected to study for an undergraduate degree; 64,180 for a master's degree, 11,870 will pursue a PhD and approximately 1,100 students will seek a higher education diploma.
“The current decade has been characterized by great academic excellence and expansion,” said Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, chairwoman of the CHE's Planning and Budgeting Committee, citing increased investment in research and infrastructure and a rise in academic publications.
“Large budgets have allowed the [higher education] system to expand its accessibility [of] programs and open the gates of academia to all population groups,” she said.
A recent OECD report, published in September 2019, ranked Israel in second place worldwide for the share of 25- to 64-year-old citizens with higher education qualifications. Approximately 50% of Israelis hold higher education qualifications, the OECD said, only behind Canada (58%) and ahead of the United States (48%) and Ireland (47%).
The OECD member state average stands at about 38%. According to the CHE, engineering remained the most popular undergraduate course among Israeli students for a second time during the 2018/19 academic year.
Overall, more than one-in-four of approximately 190,000 Israeli students studied either engineering or computer science and mathematics.
During the past decade, the CHE has witnessed a staggering 80% increase in students learning computer science at universities and colleges. Undergraduate courses, including law and business management, however, have seen a 20% to 25% drop in student numbers over the past decade.
A similar decrease in students opting to study humanities – declining from 14,248 students in 2012/13 to 10,698 in 2018/19 – has led the CHE to advance programs encouraging the integration of humanities-related courses with other fields of study.
“Over the past decade, the CHE has invested in creative academic thinking and resources to promote academic excellence in research and teaching,” said CHE deputy chairman Prof. Ido Perlman. “[And] in making higher education accessible to all population groups by developing a broad spectrum of fields of study in higher education institutions, spread throughout the country and enabling every citizen of Israel to acquire higher education.”
Significantly, the number of Arab students at Israel's higher education institutions has more than doubled over the past decade. During the 2018/19 academic year, Israeli universities and colleges welcomed 51,162 Arab students, compared to just 24,377 in the 2008/09 academic year.
According to the CHE, the past decade witnessed a 95% growth in Arab students pursuing undergraduate degrees, a 224% increase in those pursuing master's degree and a 118% increase in PhD students from the Arab sector.
“The higher education system is the key to integration into society in general, and the Israeli market in particular,” said Perlman.
“Increasing the number of students from the Arab sector in master's programs and especially in PhD studies ensures their integration into the academic and research leadership of Israeli society.”
Rapid increases in higher education participation have also been noted among Israeli students of Ethiopian descent, where a 35% increase in five years has been recorded, and among ultra-Orthodox Jews.
In the 2010/11 academic year, 6,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews were enrolled in higher education, compared to more than 12,700 in 2018/19.
Last year, the percentage of women among higher education students stood at 59%, with female students now representing a majority at all levels of higher education.
According to the CHE, 58% of undergraduate students, 63% of master's students, and 53% of PhD students during the 2018/19 academic year were women.