Wednesday, July 17, 2013

The Hebrew U

Inbal Doron

The Hebrew University in Jerusalem is the third largest university in Israel today, after the universities of Tel Aviv and Bar-Ilan. In 2011 a total of 20,400 students were enrolled in the Hebrew University, which for several years has had the largest number of students in the country pursuing advanced degrees, including doctorates. In 2011, a total of 2,540 were pursuing doctoral degrees in Jerusalem, constituting 24% of the total for Israel. The number of students in higher education institutions in Israel rises each year, especially for advanced degrees. In the last decade (2001-2011) there has been an increase of 23% in the number of students pursuing a master’s degree, and 50% in the number studying towards a doctorate. 

At the same time, there has been a decline in recent years in the ratio of Hebrew University students to the total number of students in Israel. Two decades ago (1991), about a quarter of the total number of students in Israel were enrolled at the Hebrew University, compared to only 16% in 2011. The key explanation for this trend lies in the privatization of higher education in Israel that took place during the early 1990s and in the opening of a large number of academic colleges that compete with universities. Another explanation lies in the transformations that have occurred in the most sought-after fields today, as compared with past years.

Out of a total of 251,800 students in 2011, about half studied in universities and half in academic colleges and teacher-training colleges. Today a total of 35 academic colleges and 23 teacher-training colleges operate in Israel. Among other things, the colleges offer a wide range of degrees in areas such as design, music, or technology. In Jerusalem today there are seven academic colleges and five teacher-training colleges, at which in 2011 a total of 16,000 students were enrolled, constituting 44% of the total number of students in the city that year.

A review of students’ chosen fields over time in Israel reflects the change that has taken place in recent decades. In 2011, bachelor’s degree students in Israel’s universities pursued the following fields of study: social sciences (31%), engineering and architecture (20%) humanities (19%), natural sciences (15%), medicine (10%), law (4%), and agriculture (1%). The most significant decline was in the humanities. Until the late 1990s this had been the leading field of study, attracting about a third of bachelor’s degree students on average. The fields in which a significant increase occurred were medicine and healthcare, engineering, and architecture. The percentage of medical students today is double that of 1980, and in engineering and architecture one can see a steady increase in the number of students over the past decades. 

These changes in chosen fields of study, and primarily the decrease in interest in the humanities as well as the lack of an engineering faculty have been contributing factors in the decline in percentage of students at the Hebrew University out of the total number of students in Israel’s universities. The salient fields of study at the Hebrew University compared to others in Israel are medicine and healthcare. A total of 28% of the country’s bachelor’s degree medical and healthcare students are enrolled at the Hebrew University. These figures are 26% for law and 19% for the natural sciences.