Prior to the establishment of the State of Israel, advocates for a Jewish homeland looked to higher education as a basis for its social, economic, and cultural foundation. Both the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Technion, founded as the Yishuv's (Jewish Community in Eretz Israel) first universities in 1925, graduated much-needed manpower to structurally and ideologically rehabilitate the land which would one day be home to the Jewish state. Under the auspices of the two universities, some 16,000 students and scholars from around the world contributed to the rebuilding process necessary to realize the dream of statehood in 1948.
Israel saw the introduction of five additional universities and several other institutions of higher learning by its 20th birthday in 1968. In response to this growth and in part with the need for a unified governing authority, the Council of Higher Education (CHE) began to operate as an advisory committee entrusted to counsel the government on the development and funding of higher education. The council is a public body of academics and community leaders appointed by the President of Israel. The CHE, completely independent of the Ministry of Education, today oversees the subsidized education of the nearly 150,000 students in Israel working towards degrees. Moreover, while all of Israel's institutions of higher education are characterized by complete freedom in academic affairs, the CHE works to encourage efficiency and coordination among them.
Unique in its make-up, Israel's higher education system can be broken down into four distinctive but interwoven parts:
Universities in Israel serve a dual purpose: teaching and research. Each university (except for the Weizmann Institute) grants bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in all areas of the fine arts, humanities, and the sciences. In addition, most basic research in these areas is carried out at the country's 8 public universities, where specialists are charged with the task of facilitating Israel's contribution to and implementation of modern technology.
Regional Colleges are university-mandated satellite campuses which afford supplementary opportunities to students who live in areas distant from the country's centrally situated universities. While some regional colleges offer full degree programs, undergraduate studies are often started at one of these schools and completed at the main campus of the sponsoring university.
Trade and Vocational Schools, some publicly funded and others privately run, provide instruction in specific fields primarily at the undergraduate level. Certain schools focus on law, management, technology, and teacher development. Others train students in areas of the paramedical profession such as optometry, radiology, and dental hygiene. Additional schools work to ready students for careers in sports or the cultural and culinary arts.
Foreign Universities have in recent years established campuses in Israel to make use of the country's resources and well-kept historical sites. These programs service both Israeli and foreign students, undergraduates and graduates, and make tremendous contributions to the fast-growing market for higher education in Israel. Today, about 30 such campuses exist.