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Ambitious Israeli students look to top institutions abroad

In 2012 the OECD named Israel the second most educated country in the world, which suggests that it is home to prospective international students of the highest quality. Today ICEF Monitor takes a closer look at this small but important market and interviews David Adler, CEO of the Israeli study abroad agency Ustudy.

Israel in brief

Israeli university education is strong. The offerings are varied, schools are considered to be of top quality, and they are inexpensive to attend. There are nine highly regarded research universities and 49 private colleges. All this creates incentives for Israelis to opt for education at home, yet they show strong interest in international education as well. When looking abroad, many Israelis want to attend Ivy League schools, and in general the US is a top market, with about 3,000 students in classes there, according to the Israeli embassy. Open Doors logged 2,430 Israeli students studying in the US in 2012/13 (700 undergraduate, 1,291 graduate, 148 non-degree, 291 OPT), which represented a 2.4% decline from the year prior. While the United States is the preferred destination, and Canada, Australia, and the UK are popular, other schools in Eastern Europe are also proving to be good choices, particularly as they offer high value and close proximity to home. Mr Adler, though his agency Ustudy, works with Israeli students daily and knows them well. He describes them as, first and foremost, highly motivated and mature. “When they come to the school they’re very serious about their work,” he explains in the interview segment below. “They’re serious about their goals, and they’re trying to be very successful inside and outside of class.” Palestinian interest in international education is also high. A detailed Ustudy market report on the West Bank states that Palestinian students represent a distinct opportunity, particularly in the Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jerusalem areas, where private schools graduate many students with high English proficiency. In hard numbers, the West Bank and Gaza have some of the highest per capita university graduation rates in the Middle East. And according to Ustudy, in 2012 more than 8,000 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza requested information from AMIDEAST about studying in the US. AMIDEAST is an American NGO that works to improve educational opportunities by, among other things, developing language and professional skills. Despite broad student interest, due to the overall market size, those looking to partner in Israel should set practical goals in terms of the numbers of students they can attract. Mr Adler explains some characteristics of Israeli students and parents, and what expectations educators and agents should have about the market:

Israel’s tech prowess

Israel is well known for its tech sector

, which is centred in an area known as “Silicon Wadi,” with more than 5,000 start-ups in Tel-Aviv alone. According to Dan Senor and Saul Singer’s 2009 book Startup Nation, Israel is home to more NASDAQ companies than any country outside the US. It is also more mobile-enabled than any country in the region, with 2012 figures putting the number of mobile phones at 9.2 million, a penetration rate of more than 133% This tech boom means there is keen interest among Israelis for studies related to digital technologies. Brand name universities are already moving to take advantage. For example, Cornell University and Technion - Israel Institute of Technology recently created Cornell NYC Tech. In 2017, another campus is scheduled to open on Roosevelt Island in NYC’s East River. Furthermore, a branch of Technion will open soon in China As with their Israeli counterparts, Palestinian undergraduates show a preference for computer science and technology, but also opt for business administration, pharmacology and engineering fields. Graduate students also tend to look toward those areas, as well as education and civil engineering. Aside from promoting degree programmes in these popular areas of interest, how else should educators and agents go about attracting local students? Knowing how the local market is structured is clearly important. In Part 2 of our interview, Mr Adler discusses Israeli agencies and how they interact with one another.

Options for Israeli students

Ultimately Israeli students are flexible, but financing is key and price awareness is high. While the government of Israel does not finance any programmes to study abroad, there are some good non-governmental options. For example, the Fulbright Scholarship Fund has awarded more than 1,300 Israelis, including Arab academics. In looking again at the numbers, about 1,000 students obtain their PhDs each year, the vast majority of whom are Jewish (3,714 graduates from 2005 to 2008) rather than Arab (126). University World News explains the divide: "By studying abroad, Arab students from Israel have the opportunity to improve their academic, scientific and social status in Arab society in Israel. Studying for a PhD abroad means for them social prestige in traditional society, and also helps their national minority in the goal of achieving full equality in all spheres of life in Israel." Other study abroad funds include the Chevening Scholarships, Olive Tree Scholarships, and more. Palestinians have special access to the Ford Foundation’s International Fellowship Program (FFIFP), and the Youth Exchange & Study (YES) programme. Both of those, as well as the Fulbright Fund, are managed by AMIDEAST, which maintains offices in Ramallah, Nablus, Gaza City and Hebron. In the final segment of our interview, Mr Adler talks a bit more about student financing options and government support efforts. First, he opens with a few words about security issues within Israel, reassuring some readers that perception does not always equal reality. As Mr Adler makes clear, Israel is a complex country but one that ultimately offers strong rewards. Educators and agents should:

  • Always be aware of the ongoing sensitivities that exist around the Palestinian issue;
  • Remember that funding comes mainly from the students and their families, which means financial aid packages are an important incentive;
  • Similarly, remember that parents want to be sure that students can afford not just to start a programme, but to ultimately complete the degree.

Educators and agents can also connect with local students at student fairs, such as the kind that Ustudy stages with Campus Studies, another Israeli student recruitment agency. For example, their recent fair in Tel-Aviv attracted over 1,500 students, as well as 300 to their West Bank fair, and over 750 students in Jordan. Schools engaging with students at the recent student fair in Tel-Aviv, Israel.

International initiatives and links with countries

A recent article in The Jerusalem Post pointed out, "Many Israeli academics do postdocs abroad to gain international perspective, experience and connections. But by bringing in more foreign students from top universities around the world, Israel hopes to increase the level of intermingling for its students at home and build up its own post-doctoral research programmes.

As such, the Israeli Interior Ministry is set to expand working rights for foreign students studying in Israel in order to allow foreign academics and experts to take jobs lecturing in their fields in universities.

The idea behind the reforms is to draw more academics to Israel, making it a more attractive destination for international students. Under current rules it’s difficult for foreign students - particularly non-Jews - to study or do research in the country." Along these lines, foreign links are strong and growing. Programmes are in place to bring students from China and India to study at Israeli universities. During the 2012/13 academic year, the Council for Higher Education in collaboration with the Planning and Budgeting Committee launched a five-year China/India initiative. Israel also has been working toward forging stronger educational links with the UK, as evidence by the Israeli government’s plan to invest up to US $1.5 billion over 20 years to fund a world Jewish peace corps and bring more Hebrew language courses to public schools. On a national level, Israel is investigating mechanisms to bolster student mobility such as through the increase in the number of programmes taught in English. In line with its commitment to promote student mobility, Israel ascribes great importance to the principles of the Bologna Process. Israel submitted its candidacy to be included in the Process in January 2007 and February 2008 but is currently not a signatory state. However, Israeli officials are invited to the Bologna Policy Forums which are held on a periodical basis. In addition, during recent years, a growing number of Israeli higher education institutions have shown interest in the Bologna Process as an instrument to promote student and graduate mobility. Higher education institutes have promoted pilots in order to implement selected principles of the Process such as ECTS, Learning Outcomes and the Diploma Supplement.

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