History was made in Israeli education

There are many desired qualities in the US that countries should learn from.

Photos from the Adelson School of Entrepreneurship at IDC Herzliya (photo credit: AMIT GERON)
Photos from the Adelson School of Entrepreneurship at IDC Herzliya
(photo credit: AMIT GERON)
Israel’s Council for Higher Education has made the unprecedented move of approving the country’s first private university. IDC Herzliya is going to be the first private university in Israel.
In Israel there are numerous private colleges but never before have there been private universities. The main difference lies in the fact that universities are primarily focused on research and therefore are able to grant doctorates, while colleges focus chiefly on teaching. Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who lobbied for and promoted the decision, tweeted: “My friends, in the US there are private universities like Harvard and Yale, alongside excellent public universities in almost every state. Private and public existing side by side and completing each other.”
While it is true that they exist side by side, the manner in which they complete each other is debatable. A quick glance at the 2018 National University Rankings in the US reveals a sad picture for public universities. For starters, the top 10 list is comprised of private schools only. Further examination reveals that even the top 100 list includes very few public schools. Therefore, I suppose that you really could say they complete each other; the private schools, which are considered the best schools, serve American citizens with financial means, and the public schools, also known as schools that did not make the rankings, exist for less affluent citizens.
Israel has strong social democratic roots, which makes this decision one which changes the character and legacy of the state. To this day, Israeli citizens enjoy a public healthcare system that is one of the best in the world, a public school system that is equal for all children and many public services that originate in the values on which Israel was founded. In the US the top universities are private, but in Israel the top ones are public. Not only are these public universities at the top in Israel but they are consistently rated high in the international rankings – at least two of the top 100 universities in the world are Israeli and most Israeli universities are in the top 500.
To attest to the undesired effects of private schools in America, student debt was estimated at $1.3 trillion by the end of 2016. Statistics show more students are taking loans and for larger amounts. The average debt of an American graduate with student loans was about $34,000 in 2015. Israel by comparison doesn’t have federal student aid, which can be explained with simple fact that the majority of Israeli students attend a public university or college, with very low tuitions. A survey conducted by the National Union of Israeli Students determined that Israeli student debt averages a mere NIS 60,000, the equivalent of $17,266. That is less then half the debt American students are left with.
There are many desired qualities in the US that countries should learn from; an education system for the wealthy is certainly not one of them. Education is the key to social mobility, and should therefore be the last thing that Israel chooses to privatize.
The author is a Research Fellow at The Berl Katznelson Foundation.