Israels private colleges expand choices, access to higher education

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

RISHON LEZION, ISRAEL — A quiet but important revolution is taking place in the field of higher education in Israel.

In a reversal of the trend in other countries in which public colleges and universities sprang up as an alternative to private colleges, Israel is seeking private colleges to relieve the demand on the publicly subsidized universities.

"Although we pride ourselves in being the People of the Book, many bright and qualified young Israelis have had either to forgo the benefit of a higher education or seek it abroad, because the established universities are virtually bursting at the seams," says Tamar Rafael, an executive officer of the College of Management (COM).

Naftali Wittman, a member of the Israel Council for Higher Education, which in 1988 began granting COM authorization to award degrees, agrees.

"The colleges relieve the demand on the universities for undergraduate degrees, thereby freeing them, both financially and physically, to develop their advanced research programs," she says.

One goal of creating local, private colleges was to enable students to get a higher education without having to travel far.

"This is possible due to the diverse geographical spread of colleges, from Sapir College in the Negev, to Jezreel Valley College in the Lower Galilee and Tel Chai College further north," she says.

Most of the country's universities are located in the large population centers.

Since its founding in 1965 by the Union of Administrative and Public Service Employees, COM has trained and educated some 300,000 men and women in a variety of courses.

They range from office skills and management to marketing and real estate. It also offers associate degree programs in computer technology, construction and industrial engineering, and other technical courses.

In 1988, COM was authorized to award degrees in business administration. In 1993, it was accredited to grant law degrees and in April, it was given the go-ahead to register students for an MBA program at its School of Business Administration — the oldest and largest of the college's schools.

COM also awards bachelor's degrees in media studies and offers an interdisciplinary degree combining business and law. Application has been made to award degrees in economics, and courses currently offered in behavioral studies are expected to lead to a degree program.

In addition, a four-year design program has been started within the School of Art, with hopes this will be granted degree status.

During the last academic year, more than 6,000 students were enrolled in degree programs and more than 30,000 studied part-time in non-degree programs, including bookkeeping, management, computers, communications and marketing.

Lilach Nurani of Ashdod chose to study at COM's new Rishon LeZion campus, which provides an educational solution for the rapidly growing population south of Tel Aviv.

"Although I was accepted to Tel Aviv University, the College of Management had the specific degree program in finance that I wanted, and the school has an excellent reputation," he says.

Forty-five hundred students are already studying at the new campus' law school and school of business administration — which are expected to attract 15,000 when the first phase of development is completed in 2005 by an award-winning architect.

Now the COMis eyeing plans to win full accreditation as Israel's first privately-run university.