NIS 50m per year to be invested in boosting English proficiency among undergraduates

Council for Higher Education’s 5-year plan aims to internationalize Israeli academia by upping the number of courses taught in English, sending students for apprenticeships abroad

Students at Hebrew University's Mount Scopus campus on the first day of the school year, October 23, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Students at Hebrew University's Mount Scopus campus on the first day of the school year, October 23, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Council for Higher Education on Wednesday decided to invest NIS 50 million ($13.3 million) annually over the next five years in increasing the number of undergraduate students who take English-language courses during their studies, a report said.

The project will begin next year in universities and academic colleges, Haaretz reported.

Half of the annual sum, NIS 25 million ($6.7 million), will be handed out to institutions that succeed in increasing the number of students who take more English classes than the current required minimum of two courses throughout a degree. The project is offering the institutions financial incentives to boost the variety of courses in English, according to the report.

The remaining half of the annual budget will be used for other aspects of internationalizing Israel’s academia, such as increasing the number of students who travel abroad for professional apprenticeships, and upping the number of foreign research students who come to study in Israeli institutes.

According to the council, one of the goals is to provide students with the skills they need to join the tech workforce, Haaretz said.

In 2020, the council approved a reform aimed at increasing English-language skills among academic students, saying at the time it was to better prepare them to “succeed in the 21st century labor market.”

As part of that reform, over the following five years, academic institutions were tasked with setting out study methods to ensure students gain the basic skills of English reading, writing, comprehension and speech. The programs were to be based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), the council said in a statement at the time. The CEFR is a guideline on how to measure the achievements of learners of foreign languages in Europe.

The committee agreed that proficiency in English-language skills is required to understand the background materials in academic courses, as well as to facilitate the best possible integration of students into the workforce.

However, the drive has faced pushback from the Academy of the Hebrew Language, which has warned that improving English skills could come at the expense of enriching Hebrew-language abilities, Haaretz reported.

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