By Sofia Rasmussen
In May 2010, Haaretz reported that higher education flourished in Israel during the first decade of the 2000s. In 2008, roughly 3 in 10 Israelis held a college degree, which was up nearly 40 percent from 1995. As enrollment and graduation has increased, the number of doctorate programs in the country has remained relatively low, even despite the recent advent of a handful of accredited online PhD programs. However, many of these existing traditional programs are among the most revered in the world.
The recent academic interest among Israelis can be linked to other advancements Israel achieved in the first decade of the second millennium. In 2010, roughly 91 percent of households had Internet access; 15 years earlier, only 27 percent of Israelis owned a personal computer. Cell phone ownership also spiked, peaking at 2.1 phones per household in 2008. As Israel modernized and its citizens became more tech-savvy, the country’s colleges witnessed a dramatic influx of post-graduate applicants.
There are currently eight universities in Israel recognized by the Council for Higher Education of Israel. There are also several colleges, but only universities can confer doctorate degrees to their students. The council, which operates much like the U.S. accreditation system, has the power to recognize institutions and award degrees, while a board of governors regulates each university.
The country’s second largest university, Hebrew University in Jerusalem, enrolls 2,700 doctoral students every year. Though the school’s Clinical Doctor of Pharmacy was ranked as the best Ph.D. program in Israel by University Directory Worldwide, HUJI doctorate students can also earn degrees in law, medicine, veterinary medicine, bioengineering, philosophy and education, among other subjects. In April 2011, HUJI collaborated with Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University to create a Ph.D. philosophy program in environmental life sciences.
Another Israeli campus full of doctorate students is Bar-llan University, which is located in Ramat-Gan, a populous Tel Aviv suburb. Eight Ph.D. programs—including law, humanities, engineering, Jewish studies and exact sciences—are available, as well as a M.D. at the Faculty of Medicine. In addition, five interdisciplinary Ph.D. programs are offered to Bar-llan students: hermeneutics and culture studies; brain sciences; gender studies; conflict management and negotiation studies; and science, technology and society.
However, critics note that many Israeli schools have failed to adopt doctoral programs, including the country’s largest institution, Open University of Israel in Ra’anana. Though nearly 40,000 students attend the university every year, no doctoral programs are offered—in fact, even master’s programs are sparse. This inaction has left the country with a limited number of domestic doctoral programs—and as a result, many Ph.D. hopefuls opt to earn their degrees abroad. Another common criticism of Israeli university graduate programs is an inherently lax set of standards. For example, the council fined Bar-llan University last year for admitting too many students without Bachelor’s degrees into Master’s and doctorate programs.
As Israeli society continues to catch up with the developed world, these flaws in the country’s university doctorate system will presumably be corrected. Now more than ever, citizens of Israel are showing a desire to achieve academic success. This development bodes very well for a nation long touted for its progressive ways.