Israel’s Higher Education

Education in Israel is a life-long process.

This article, the second of two parts, covers adult and higher education in Israel. The first part provides an introduction to Israel’s educational system and focuses on education for children. Reprinted with permission from the Israeli Ministry of Affairs.

A wide range of courses sponsored by the Ministry of Education, as well as by public and private institutions, address individual needs ranging from learning the Hebrew language and upgrading basic educational skills to promoting family well-being and expanding general knowledge. The Ministry of Labor provides vocational training and retraining for adults in many fields, available in the large cities, as well as in many towns.

israel's higher education

Hebrew language instruction on many levels, using the specially-developed ulpan method, helps immigrants and other population groups to integrate into the mainstream of Israeli life. Compensatory education, designed to reduce educational and cultural disparities among adults is tailored to the world of adult learners. Vocational training courses, both in day and night classes, are available at centers jointly operated by the Ministry of Labor and industrial enterprises, as well as in institutions for technological and professional training. “Popular universities” all over the country offer hundreds of adult education classes and workshops in academic subjects as well as the arts. Special radio broadcasts for immigrants include a “university on the air” program.

Higher Education

Higher education plays a pivotal role in the economic and social development of the country. Almost a quarter of a century before the state came into being, the Technion– Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa was opened (1924) to train engineers and architects and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem was founded (1925) as a center of higher learning for youth in the Land of Israel and to attract Jewish students and scholars from abroad. When Israel attained independence (1948), enrollment at the two universities totaled about 1,600. In 2000-2001, some 216,000 students attended the country’s institutions of higher learning. Of these, 54 percent attended universities and 30 percent were enrolled in colleges, while 16 percent participated in courses through the Open University.

Accorded full academic and administrative freedom, Israel’s institutions of higher education are open to all those who meet their academic standards. New immigrants and students lacking the necessary qualifications may attend a special preparatory program, which upon successful completion enables them to apply for admission.

Institutions of higher education operate under the authority of the Council for Higher Education, which is headed by the Minister of Education and includes academics, community representatives and a student representative. It grants accreditation, authorizes the awarding of academic degrees and advises the government on the development and financing of higher education and scientific research.

The Planning and Grants Committee, composed of four senior academics from different fields and two public figures from the business or industrial sectors, is the intermediary body between the government and the institutions of higher education regarding financial matters, submitting budget proposals to both bodies and allocating the approved budget. Public funds provide 70 percent of the budget for higher education, 20 percent derives from tuition and the rest from various private sources. The Committee also promotes cooperation among the various institutions.

Most Israeli students are over age 21 when they begin their studies, after three years compulsory military service for men and almost two years for women. Until the early 1960s, students pursued higher education mainly to acquire knowledge, while in recent years they have been more career-oriented, with larger numbers enrolled in the wide range of professional studies now offered. At present, well over half of Israelis in the 20-24 age group are enrolled in one of the country’s institutions of post-secondary or higher education.

The Universities

Technion–Israel Institute of Technology (est. 1924, Haifa) has graduated a high proportion of the country’s engineers, architects and town planners. In recent decades, faculties for medicine and the life sciences were added. The Technion serves as a center of basic and applied research in the sciences and engineering to advance the country’s industrial development.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (est. 1925) comprises faculties which cover nearly all areas of scholarship, from art history to zoology, and houses Israel’s National Library. Since its inception, Hebrew University scientists have been actively involved in every phase of Israel’s national development, and its Jewish Studies departments rank among the most comprehensive in the world.

Weizmann Institute of Science (est. 1934, Rehovot), originally founded as the Sieff Institute, was expanded in 1949 and named for Dr. Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s first president and a renowned chemist. Today, it is a recognized post-graduate center of research in physics, chemistry, mathematics, and the life sciences. Its researchers are engaged in projects designed to accelerate the development of industry and the establishment of new science-based enterprises. The Institute includes a department for science teaching which prepares curricula for use in high schools.

Bar Ilan University (est. 1955, Ramat Gan) embodies a unique integrative approach which combines enrichment programs in Jewish heritage with a liberal education, in a wide range of disciplines, particularly in the social sciences. Blending tradition with modern technologies, it houses research institutes in physics, medicinal chemistry, mathematics, economics, strategic studies, developmental psychology, musicology, Bible, Talmud, Jewish law, and more.

Tel Aviv University (est. 1956) was founded by incorporating three existing institutions to meet the need for a university in the Tel Aviv area, the country’s most populous region. Today it is Israel’s largest university, offering a wide spectrum of disciplines and placing considerable emphasis on both basic and applied research. The university houses specialized institutes which focus on strategic studies, health systems management, technological forecasting, and energy studies.

Haifa University (est. 1963), which serves as a center of higher education in the northern part of the country, offers opportunities for interdisciplinary studies; its interdepartmental centers, institutes and overall architectural plan are structured to facilitate this approach. The university includes a unit for the study of the kibbutz as a social and economic entity, as well as a center dedicated to the advancement of understanding and cooperation between Jews and Arabs in Israel.

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (est. 1967, Be’er Sheva) was established to serve the residents of southern Israel and to encourage the social and scientific development of the country’s desert region. It has made major contributions in arid zone research, and its medical school has pioneered community-oriented medicine in the country. The university’s campus at Kibbutz Sde Boker houses a research center for the study of the historical and political aspects of the life and times of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister.


Regional colleges offer academic courses under the auspices of one of the universities, making it possible for students to begin studying for a degree near their home and complete it at the university’s main campus.

Some specialized institutes provide various disciplines in art, music, dance, fashion, nursing, rehabilitation therapies, teaching and sports, respectively. Several private degree-granting colleges offer subjects in great demand such as business administration, law, computers, economics and related topics. At some, additional tracks are available, leading to certificates or vocational diplomas in a variety of subjects ranging from technology and agriculture to marketing and hotel trades.

The Open University (est. 1974), patterned on the British model, offers distinctive, non-traditional higher education opportunities towards a bachelor’s degree by utilizing flexible methods based primarily on self-study textbooks and guides, supplemented by structured assignments and periodic tutorials, with final examinations.

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