Israel drags its feet over licences

September 24, 1999

Forty-five of the 50 overseas university branches that have applied for licences to operate in Israel have not received them with the start of term only weeks away.

Unlike the parent universities, which are accredited in their home countries, all extensions of foreign universities in Israel have to be granted a licence from the Committee of Higher Education.

Local branches of foreign universities have mushroomed in Israel since the mid-1990s. Most are seen as business ventures with low education standards.

The COHE's requirements include: a minimum bagrut or matriculation examination for all students; syllabuses in the local extension colleges identical to those in the home university; studies to the same standard as Israeli universities; and at least 30 per cent of lecturers from the parent university.

University extensions without licences are now trying to prove to the COHE in the shortest possible time frame that they meet its requirements and that the degree granted in Israel is equivalent to the one granted from the parent university, a challenge which not many of them have so far been able to meet.

Nehemia Levtzion, chairman of its planning and budgeting committee, said the move is a direct result of "the status of the wage (structure) and promotion in the public sector.

"We are a country where people with academic degrees get a significant raise in their salaries and have new opportunities for promotion. Foreign university extensions offer easy degrees, easy money."

He identified three factors involved in the growth of local extensions of foreign universities: British universitieswanting to make money because the UK government only partially funds them; Israeli representatives of local extensions, who are mostly businessmen; and Israeli students themselves, for whom studying is an investment.

Ami Volansky, senior adviser to the minister of education and head of the ministry's planning policy division, said that it is not only salary, but also the possibility of better jobs, with a second degree and better pension, that motivates Israelis to study in extension colleges.

At a recent meeting of the Knesset education committee, representatives of some local extension colleges spoke. Foremost among them was the University of Derby, represented by Avi Bitan of Inter College in Tel Aviv.

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