Students flock to engineering studies, lured by Startup Nation enticement

Engineering students account for 18.4% of the total Israeli student body, topping enrollment ranking, data shows

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

Illustrative image of students at the Rehovot Campus of Hebrew University, on January 22, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
Illustrative image of students at the Rehovot Campus of Hebrew University, on January 22, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

For the second consecutive year, students in Israel have made engineering the course of study with the highest enrollment — with these classes accounting for 18.4% of total undergraduates, data provided by the Council for Higher Education in Israel for the academic year 2018-19 shows.

Engineering studies include electrical and electronic engineering, software engineering, information systems engineering, civil and mechanical engineering, and chemicals and materials engineering.

While law and business administration programs were considered highly desirable courses of study over the past 10 years, recent data shows an approximately 20 to 25 percent drop in enrollment, while tech programs have grown in numbers. Today, one in four Israeli undergraduates — or some 51,000 students — study engineering, computer science or mathematics, the figures show.

The boost in science students is the direct result of a several hundred million shekel government initiative to increase the number of graduates in order to feed the nation’s booming tech industry, the Council for Higher Education said in a statement.

Israel, the so-called Startup Nation, is suffering from an acute shortage of skilled workers to propel its tech engine. The innovation sector is lacking some 15,000 skilled workers a year, data compiled by Start-Up Nation Central and the Israel Innovation Authority showed last year.

The new data shows “we have accomplished our mission, and thanks to incentives given to academic institutions and the expansion of infrastructure, we were able to revolutionize the subjects studied in Israel — many students are choosing the challenge of high-tech studies,” said Professor Yaffa Zilbershats, chairman of the council. “This significant change in the academic system will have a major impact on the Israeli economy. In collaboration with academic institutions, we are determined to continue the trend, to promote entrepreneurship and innovation in Israel and to integrate academia and industry.”

The CHE believes that to meet evolving technology needs, academia needs to change the traditional division of varied faculty studies into a more interdisciplinary system, in order to produce well-rounded students with a diverse set of skills. Thus, alongside business and tech and economic studies, courses should include philosophy, literature, art, history and other humanities studies in their degree programs.

The total number of engineering undergraduate students for the 2018-19 year rose to 35,041, up from 34,599 in 2017-18 and 31,918 in 2009-10.

Mathematics, statistics and computer science studies rose to 16,780 students in 2018-19, from 15,553 a year earlier, and 9,122 in 2009-10.

The number of law students dropped to 12,223 from 13,168 the year earlier and 15,790 in 2009-10.

Business and management sciences rose to 18,711 in the 2018-19 academic year, from 18,463 a year earlier, but down from 19,463 in 2009-10, the data showed. The number of medical students dropped to 2,047 from 2,168 a year earlier, but up from 1,457 in 2009-10.

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