The reputation of British universities in the global market suffered a blow this week when Israel's higher education regulatory authority accused institutions of compromising standards to make "as much money as possible".
Nehemia Levtzion, head of planning and funding at the Israeli Higher Education Council, delivered a damning criticism of the quality controls applied by British institutions running extension operations in Israel. Professor Levtzion said that institutions in Israel have already begun plans to abandon their formal partnerships with British universities and that some had been told not to bother applying for a licence to offer degrees in the country.
Professor Levtzion said: "I think that because British universities try to make as much money as possible, they will compromise on standards. Israeli institutions are dropping British patronage and tutelage and would rather become an institution in their own right. Maybe quality will have something to do with it."
Professor Levtzion spoke out as the Israeli HEC again blocked Derby University's application for a licence to award degrees through partner Inter College. The UK's Quality Assurance Agency has reviewed all UK provision in Israel. Its report on Derby was favourable. The HEC decision followed a THES report last month that Derby lowered entry requirements to fill places.
Derby's application, submitted under tough new laws designed to tighten regulation of overseas providers, was blocked last month when the Israeli HEC inspectors found that it breached "several" aspects of the law.
In a meeting this week, the HEC council rejected Derby's action plan and put the university on probation. It has until mid-October to prove that it has met "a long list" of obligations. Its licence application will be reconsidered in November.
Professor Levtzion said: "We suspect that Derby does not enforce the same regulations in Israel as they do at home. There is a long list of obligations they have to meet before we will give them a licence." He said that Derby must ensure that its extension is "the long arm of the University of Derby", with an identical curriculum, syllabus and exam system.
Derby said it would continue to collaborate with the HEC and looks forward to a close and effective working relationship.
Extension activity in Israel, usually franchised through local private colleges, has exploded in recent years as British universities exploited a largely untapped market. The HEC estimates that 15,000 Israeli students are sitting for degrees awarded through local colleges by overseas universities.