ISRAEL: Students face course closures

The number of professors at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has been slashed by 200 over the last 10 years and administrative staff by 400 from a total of 1,600 in the last five years. Cuts in the higher education budget of NIS1.2 billion (US$300 million) over the last seven years have left students at Israeli universities facing a closure of departments and even schools.

For example, students wanting to study librarianship at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem or musicology at Tel Aviv University will now have to look elsewhere for a place, because of budget cuts that have caused the closure of these departments.

University Rector Professor Haim Rabinowitch said an international advisory committee had recommended the university's library school be closed as it was not considered to be up to standard and had an "old-fashioned programme". But Rabinowitch said the committee recommended that the philosophy, political science and economics degree be expanded and allocated more staff.

Since the 1990s, a mushrooming of regional and private colleges, as well as the local branches of foreign universities in Israel, has made higher education more available across the board, as opposed to the elitist population of students at the country's research universities.

Parallel to this has been a growing trend for increasing numbers of students to opt for business administration and law, choices which could increase their salaries compared with other arts and science subjects.

In these cases, students are often willing to pay twice as much in student fees as at the country's universities, knowing that within three years they will be well-equipped in the job market. But the universities are still considered to offer a higher level of education than the colleges.

"The future of higher education is in law and computers and not in such subjects as Egyptology. Every self-respecting university should have a department of Egyptology, but it would be among the first to go if there were budget cuts," said Dr Hanna Taragan, a lecturer and researcher in the Department of Art History at Tel Aviv University