Taub Center study shows deterioration in Israel’s higher education

While the size of the academic faculty has declined over the past three and a half decades, the number of students rose by 428%.

Students listening to a lecture at an Israeli university (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
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 week.
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 decades ago.
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%.
Yet, the 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 earlier.
Between 1977 and 2010, the number of students per senior faculty member more than doubled, from 12.6 students per professor to 26.1.
The 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.
In 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 abroad.”
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.
In 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 global economy.”
“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.”