Franchise clampdown hits Israeli students

August 20, 1999

The University of Birmingham has been barred from registering any new students in Israel, becoming the third high-profile victim of a clampdown on franchising by the Israeli university regulators. Birmingham joins Derby University and the University of East London with question marks over its future in the region.

Birmingham has fallen foul of new rules on "serial franchising", part of a string of new measures designed to clamp down on operations seen to be cashing in on the burgeoning market for lifelong learning in Israel.

Meanwhile, Coventry University has become the first British university to get through the difficult process. Only five out of 50 programmes waiting for a licence have so far been passed.

Birmingham University's degrees were being offered third-hand in Israel, through Birmingham's British partner Westhill College, which in turn was providing Birmingham degrees through a partnership with a private Israeli college.

Such an arrangement is barred under Israeli higher education law, which states that only institutions with full degree-awarding powers can operate extensions. It also breaks the Quality Assurance Agency's code of practice on collaborative provision, which discourages "serial franchising".

Nehemia Levtzion, chair of the planning and budget committee of Israel's Higher Education Council, confirmed that Westhill's licence application had "not been approved" because Westhill did not award its own degrees.

A spokeswoman for the University of Birmingham confirmed that a new licence application

had been made. This month, Westhill College became a fully merged part of the University of Birmingham, and is now called the University of Birmingham Westhill.

The Birmingham spokeswoman said: "The problem has arisen because Westhill College was changing its status - it ceased to exist as a legal entity on July 31 and formed an alliance with the University of Birmingham. The alliance is complex and novel and may not have been fully understood by everybody involved.

"From August 1, students in Israel have been fully registered students of the University of Birmingham. We will honour our commitment to them."

But there has been further confusion over the university's relationship with its Israeli partner, Akademion. Its manager, David Ben-Menchem, recently had his passport seized by the Israeli authorities for unspecified activities related to his role as Westhill's agent. This week Birmingham confirmed this, but added: "His passport has been returned. The incident was a misunderstanding arising from the uncertainty over the status of Westhill College."

Letters, page 13

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