Delegation goes to US to attract foreign students to Israel

Council for Higher Education has earmarked some $120 million through 2022 for university programs that appeal to overseas students

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Students seen during a break at the Rehovot Campus of Hebrew University, on January 22, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Students seen during a break at the Rehovot Campus of Hebrew University, on January 22, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

A delegation of senior members of Israel’s Council for Higher Education will visit Jewish institutions in the US next week to drum up interest in plans to boost the number of foreign students at Israeli universities.

They want to spread the word that universities in Israel are gearing up to cater for foreign students by setting up programs in English and providing registration forms in English, Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, the chairman of the council, which is in charge of higher education in Israel, said in a phone interview.

The representatives will meet with Chabad and Hillel officials, as well as other organizations she said. Chabad is one of the largest Jewish religious organizations in the world, and Hillel is the largest Jewish campus organization in the world. The council has also employed the services of the US-based Institute of International Education, which supports educational and cultural exchange programs globally, to help set out its international strategy, parts of which will be presented to the delegation during the visit.

The idea is create “internationalism at home,” Zilbershats said. Diversity in the student body, allowing for different backgrounds, enables local students to open up up to a variety of cultures and ways of thinking, and that enriches both local and foreign students. The council wishes to attract Jewish and non-Jewish students, she said.

Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, chairman of The Council for Higher Education in Israel (Courtesy)

The council has allocated some NIS 435 million ($120 million) through 2022 to boost the number of foreign students at its universities and colleges, in order to make local academia more competitive with universities abroad and strengthen Israel’s branding as a country of international academic excellence. This will also help fight boycotts and increase diplomatic, social and economic ties with foreign countries, the council believes.

Data collected by the OECD shows that in the developed world the average number of foreign students at universities is 6 percent of the total student corps, the council said. The US is one of the countries that attracts a high percentage of foreign students, from such countries as India, China and Israel, who later on stay on and find jobs locally.

In Israel, the number of foreign students is a low 1.4% of the total student body.

The council’s target is to bring the total number of foreign students in Israel to 3%-6% by 2022, she said, which means raising the number from 11,000 to at least 24,000.

While the perceived security situation might deter some students from studying in Israel, the main obstacle is that most courses in Israeli universities are still only offered in Hebrew. There are also obstacles such as visas and work permits for spouses, which limits institutions’ ability to open their doors to international students, the council says.

Since setting out its plans in 2017, Israeli universities such as Tel Aviv Univeristy, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev have started planning changes to their infrastructure and programs to attract foreign students. Some have already launched foreign programs. Tel Aviv University, for example, already has a full BA degree in electric engineering, Zilbershats said.

She said the greater number of foreign students will not come at the expense of Israeli students, as the former are not part of the quotas that determine funding.

Acceptance criteria will be the same for all students, a spokesman for the council said, and the cost of the international programs will be NIS 12,000 to NIS 13,000 ($3,300 to $3,600) a year, slightly above the cost for Israeli students, who pay some NIS 10,000 a year, but still “significantly lower than other similar international programs.” Selected students will also have access to scholarships, he said.

The council said in 2017 that it would award half a million shekels to universities and colleges that move toward offering courses and programs in English, training teachers to teach in English and reaching out to exceptional foreign post-doctoral students. They would also need to set out mentorships and support system for these students.

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