Universitas 21—formed in 1997 and comprised of 21 universities in 12 countries— used a new method originally formulated by researchers from the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economics and Social Research to evaluate nations on the basis of their national higher education infrastructures, rather than through comparison of individual universities.
Israel ranked first in the study in the Middle East and Africa. Iran came in second in the region and 42nd overall.
The United States came in first overall, followed by Sweden, Canada, Finland, and Denmark. Switzerland, Norway, Australia, Holland and Britain finished out the top ten.
Switzerland and Sweden led in terms of the availability of quality of higher education per capita. Israel placed third in that metric, and also came in third behind Russia and Canada in per capita percentage of the population with higher education.
The 48 countries selected for the study led rankings made by the American National Science Foundation in 2006-2007 on national research output.
Universitas 21 used twenty criteria to rank the countries in 4 categories: resources (private and public donations to higher education), output (number of people in the workforce), connectivity (international cooperative qualities), and environment (national policy and opportunity). Israel ranked 16th, 13th, 27th, and 20th in these respective categories, according to the Times of Israel.
Carlo Strenger of Tel Aviv University commented on the report in his Haaretz blog. He explained that the ultimate reason why Israel has failed to stand out in surveys of the kind conducted by Universitas 21 is because it is relatively underfunded in the area of higher education.
“The quality of Israel’s universities will … to a large extent, hinge on private donations – as have the leading universities in the U.S.,” Strenger writes. “Such donations in turn depend on potential donors’ perception of how good Israeli universities already are, and how much better they could become in the future.”
Strenger explains that evaluations of Israel’s higher education often find shortcomings in the student-faculty ratio at some of the country’s leading universities; according to Strenger, Tel Aviv University has a student-faculty ratio of 26:1. To improve these numbers, bolster Israel’s global academic reputation, and shape Israel’s economy, Strenger believes must money must be funneled into the government’s system to recruit more faculty members from abroad. He thinks that doing so is not only advisable, but imperative.
“Some might argue that Israel cannot afford to invest more money in its universities,” Strenger says. This, I believe, is dangerously shortsighted. The opposite is true: Israel cannot afford not to invest more in its research universities.”
“The driver of Israel’s economic growth in the last two decades has been its R&D sector, and Israel’s economic future will continue to depend on its research universities to educate top researchers,” he adds.