The Council for Higher Education in Israel is considering a reduction in the number of universities in the country.
The debate comes after the Lander Institute of Jerusalem closed its doors earlier this year with about $5.3 million (20 million shekels) in debt. The institute was not government run, although its academic standards were overseen by the council.
While public colleges in the country receive government funding and must follow state-mandated tuition scales, private colleges are not funded through the government and therefore do not have to adhere to the strict pay scales.
"Our lesson from the collapse of the Lander college is that we need to examine the smaller institutions whose financial stability is in doubt," Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron, the vice chairwoman of the Council for Higher Education, told TheMarker. "The council needs to initiate such an examination, and not wait for the collapse of the institutions and the abandonment of students."
Upon closing, the council needed to provide other options to its students, despite being privately funded.
Public colleges were established in the country in the 1990s with the hopes of bringing higher education opportunities to more of the rural areas. Previously, private colleges charged high tuition rates that many could not afford. The new public colleges hoped to control this through government-controlled tuition rates, currently set at 10,228 shekels ($2,725) for the entire academic year.
There are currently 310,000 students enrolled in universities and colleges throughout the country, a 1% increase from last year, which saw 307,020 students enrolled. Of these, 66% are studying at academic colleges instead of universities.
This number includes 42,000 in Jerusalem alone, half of which will study at the Hebrew University, which receives over half of the funding allocated for institutes of higher learning in Jerusalem. Issues of instruction quality and results are not considered when the government makes funding decisions.
As a result, many institutes take to spending time and resources on worldwide fundraising efforts — money they could raise through higher tuition rates if allowed to do so, writes Bertold Fridlender, president of Hadassah Academic College, for Jerusalem Post.
Prof. Peretz Lavi, president of the Technion, took the opening of the academic year as an opportunity to warn against further reductions to the higher education budget. "Continued cuts in higher education mean a real threat to Israel's future strength," he said.
Meanwhile, Tel Aviv University outranked Hebrew University as the top Israeli university on the 2014-2015 Times Higher Education World Rankings for the first time. While Tel Aviv ranked 188th, outscoring Hebrew in the areas of research, industry outcome and teaching. Hewbrew slid to the 201-225th position, but still managed to outperform in the areas of citations and international outlook.
The council is planning on reducing the number of institutes of higher learning in the country by merging operations of some of the smaller colleges, both public and private, with larger institutions, bringing the total down to around 55 or fewer from the current total of 65.
The council is already hard at work merging teacher's colleges.