Israeli students respond to Startup Nation’s push to tech fields
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Israeli students respond to Startup Nation’s push to tech fields

For the first time ever, in the 2017-2018 academic year there were more students in engineering than social sciences, Council for Higher Education says

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)

As high-tech salaries surge, and with demand for qualified workers on the rise, Israeli students are flocking to engineering, mathematics and computer programming, while shunning the more traditional fields of business and law, a survey by the Council for Higher Education in Israel has shown.

According to data published by the council, for the first time ever in the 2017-2018 academic year there were more students in Israel registered to study engineering, some 18.3% of the student population, than social sciences, which accounted for 17.9%. One out of four undergraduate students in Israel – some 50,214 — were studying either engineering or computer sciences.

The numbers also showed a sharp drop in students registering for law studies, to 6.9% in the 2017-2018 academic year from 9.4% in 2007-2008. The number of business students has declined every year since 2015, the data showed. The number of students seeking to become doctors in the 2017-2018 academic year rose to 1.1% from 0.9% in 2007-2008.

The numbers are a vindication of government efforts to boost the number of technology graduates emerging from its universities and colleges, as the so-called Startup Nation faces a shortage of skilled workers to fuel its ranks. With a thousand new startups being set up every year and multinationals flocking to Israel and setting up local R&D centers, Israel is feeling a manpower squeeze, which is pushing up salaries in the tech sector to among the highest in the world and generating friction between startup entrepreneurs and multinational giants in a battle for brains.

The Council believes this trend of increased enrollment in science studies will continue, as it has allocated million of shekels to academic institutions to boost their abilities to educate students in these fields, the statement said.

“Thanks to hundreds of millions of shekels of incentives, we have succeeded in bringing about a real change in the study tracks in Israel – much more engineering and high-tech studies, and less studies in courses in which the market is flooded, like law and business administration,” said Yaffa Zilbershats, the chairman of the Council for Higher Education.

The council said that in light of the downward trend in humanities studies — down to 5.9% versus 9.5% in 2007 — it is preparing a plan to allocate some NIS 100 million ($27.4 million) to this field.

“We will soon adopt an incentive model in the humanities as well, to strengthen research and teaching, including the development of new curricula and the leveraging of dual-disciplinary degrees, combining humanities with other disciplines,” said Zilbershats.

Social sciences include disciplines in the field of communications, economics, history, linguistics, political science and psychology. Humanities are disciplines that include ancient and modern languages, literature, philosophy. Engineering, according to the Council of Higher Education, include the fields of electrical and electronic engineering, computer and software engineering, information systems engineering, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, chemical engineering and materials, industrial and management engineering and other engineering.

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