Rector's Update - May 2020

May 13, 2020

 

Greetings friends,

With the move to the new “normal,” here is an update that addresses mainly the University’s ongoing activities, including a report on the new recruits to the University’s senior academic staff for the upcoming academic year.

1. Remote teaching. For the time being, we are continuing to conduct remote teaching in those courses in which this is possible, and on-campus teaching in most other courses (including lab classes, clinical teaching, hands-on training and excursions). We have not yet decided that distant learning will continue through the end of the Spring Semester. There are a number of reasons for this, the main one being the assessment that remote learning causes real difficulties for a significant proportion of our students

In this regard, we draw on (among other things), three surveys: two surveys conducted in two units (the School of Computer Science and the Department of Philosophy); and an extensive study among all HUJI students, conducted by Miriam Schiff, Ruth Pat-Horenczyk and Rami Benbenishty from the School of Social Work. The study is available (in Hebrew) here, and its main finding is that about half of the students report “great difficulty” or “difficulty” in distant learning, for a variety of reasons. On the other hand (not as part of the above surveys), for the time being many students are also expressing considerable concern about returning to campus. We will reach a final decision regarding the teaching format for the remainder of the semester towards the end of May.

Most of the administrative and academic staff members have returned to work in the offices and research labs, and with the opening of libraries and learning spaces and the expansion of public transport activities, students are also beginning to return to campus at increasing rates. It is essential that we extend special consideration for the unique difficulties faced by students during this period.

Currently, exams are set to be conducted on campus, except for courses whose instructors have decided to administer home exams or employ alternative assessment methods. The University has purchased software to verify the originality of submitted work (the software helps to compare a given student’s submission with texts in external databases and the texts submitted by the other students in the same course). For ethical reasons and for reasons of efficiency the University has decided not to use more intrusive supervisory measures, which are based on monitoring at the time of writing the exam.

2. Recruiting new students. This academic year, the number (and quality!) of the University’s students has risen considerably, without compromising admissions thresholds. Approximately 1,000 students are enrolled in preparatory courses, 12,000 students in undergraduate programs, approximately 6,600 master’s degree students, 2,400 doctoral students, and 700 postgraduate scholars. In total, and with the addition of overseas students in non-degree programs, as of today, the University’s student body totals 24,165 students.

We continue our efforts to attract the best candidates. The activity on this field, led by the Marketing Division and the Students’ Administration Division, along with the academic units, is currently bearing fruit in matters pertaining to enrollment in undergraduate studies. After the dramatic 16 percent increase in the number of first-year students in the 2019-2020 academic year as compared to the previous one, the admissions for the 2020-2021 academic year has soared again, even beyond the high figures for 2019-2020. On the other hand, we are currently facing challenges in enrollment for master’s degree study. We are working hard to encourage enrollment in this area as well. We must also continue our efforts to enroll undergraduate students, in the face of increasing competition from other institutions.

This is the time to thank the many members of the academic and administrative staff on their extraordinary mobilization in the remote “open house” days in the various units, in which 6,500 candidates participated, at the beginning of the week.

We must work harder to encourage the enrollment of qualified Arab students for master’s degree study (the proportion of Arab students among all the University’s master’s degree students rose in the last two years from about 6% to 8%, which is still far from our goal of 12%). A recent study initiated by the Diversity Unit (and conducted by Lilach Sagiv and Sharon Arieli from the School of Business Administration), attained two main findings: On one hand, many of HUJI Arab undergraduate students are interested in continuing to study for a master's degree. The students’ main motivations are related to the desire to succeed, achievement, and aspiration for independence. On the other hand, many students are disappointed with their academic achievement in the undergraduate degree and see this as a major obstacle to continuing their studies, particularly given the low average grades as a result of difficulties that these students encountered at the beginning of their undergraduate degree study. Additionally, many students are afraid that they will not be able to find a faculty supervisor and are not comfortable approaching lecturers on this topic. In view of this, it is necessary to approach Arab students who are likely to succeed in master’s degree studies, and to encourage them to pursue these studies. In a project led by Norman Metanis, Arab students who did not meet the regular admission threshold but demonstrated improvement during their undergraduate studies, are accepted for admission to master’s degree study programs. All of the participants in the experiment successfully completed their graduate studies, and some even graduated with honors. Please take initiative in this matter and bring about change. Special thanks to Mona Khoury-Kassabri, who led a number of remote meetings for Arab candidates, in which nearly 1,000 persons participated.

3. SAP. The implementation team of the new financial system, in collaboration with the Finance Department and the Research and Development Authority, are continuing to improve various aspects of the system, including the researchers’ portal. We are now focusing on improving the presentation of information regarding research budget and the science liaison fund. To this end, a group of academic staff members have volunteered to serve on a team to improve the “user experience”.

4. Sustainability and environment. The University’s management decided to set a strategic goal to develop academic activities in the area of​​sustainability and environmental protection. In the first phase, a framework is currently being set up to gather information on various academic activities currently held at HUJI: research conducted at HUJI in these fields; teaching (study programs and courses, within and outside the Advanced School of Environmental Studies); on public outreach activities, both within campuses (among other things, as part of the Green Campus Initiative), and beyond the University grounds. An academic steering committee is working to establish goals to strengthen University activity in all three aspects, which is already quite extensive. We will continue to update on this issue in the coming weeks.

5. Research activity. Our relative state in academic research is not yet satisfactory. Naturally, the aggregate data that we have is largely quantitative, in part, regarding the number of articles published in leading journals, and these only provide an approximation for assessing the scientific contribution of University research activities. The general trend is that, after relatively weak results (quantitatively) in 2018, activity in 2019 has returned to the higher level that has characterized us in past years. Although this is good news, it is not enough, as it does not yet express actual growth. I will address two metrics here:

a) The Nature Index rating. This index counts articles in journals that the ranking’s editors consider of high quality. Each article receives the same score, regardless of IF, and the same weight is given to each of the co-authors (each article is given 1 point, which is equally divided among all of the authors). The rating is not normalized by number of faculty members at the academic institution. The index covers only areas of the natural sciences—life sciences, physics, chemistry and earth sciences—and includes separate data for each field and total data in the natural sciences. The table below lists the overall data in the natural sciences (the ranking is among all academic research institutions in the world).

 

Natural Sciences

2019

2018

2017

2016

Articles

Rating

Articles

Rating

Normalized

Articles

Rating

Articles

Rating

Weizmann

159.9

62

173.2

56

2

175.4

50

181

46

HUJI

118

98

110.8

98

52

116.8

93

121.2

85

TAU

114.2

104

85

149

-

90.7

125

75.7

165

Technion

96.9

128

106.9

106

20

85.9

140

104.5

102

 

In terms of number of calculated articles, we have returned to our “normal” level,   after having a weaker year in 2018. As stated, this fact comes into play in other metrics as well. The per-faulty member research output (data that for the time being is available only for 2018, in the “Normalized” column) indicates that all four leading Israeli institutions are, it appears, in the top 100 in the natural sciences (as of 2020), and HUJI is in 52nd place (for 2019).

Along with the data on publications in all of the leading journals that is included in the index, the index also presents the publications index only in the two leading journals, Nature and Science. 2019 was a weak year for us in this index (we had 9 articles published in these journals, and their overall relative proportion, ignoring the author’s location, is less than 1):

 

Articles in Science and Nature

2019

2018

2017

2016

Articles

Rating

Articles

Rating

Articles

Rating

Articles

Rating

Weizmann

7.85

30

9.8

28

12.05

18

7.8

 

HUJI

0.8

239

 

 

3.3

65

1.4

 

TAU

1.8

128

 

 

 

 

 

 

Technion

1.96

121

4.6

55

3.3

63

3

 

 

With the gradual increase in our number of faculty members, which is detailed below, one may expect an improvement in our ranking. The reduction (in absolute numbers and relative to competing institutions) in the last decade in the number of faculty members in the computer sciences also explains the decline in our position in the csranking index. Here, too, the considerable increase in the number of faculty members in this field is expected to improve our situation.

b) ERC Grants. In this area, we maintain a stable position in our achievement in terms of the number of grants awarded, which remains high, alongside considerable volatility in the total amount of money awarded.

 

2019

2018

 

Starting

Cons

Advanced

Synergy

Starting

Cons

Advanced

Synergy

HUJI

7

2

3

0

7

2

3

1

Weizmann

6

6

2

1

5

11

1

1

TAU

8

4

0

0

4

6

3

0

Technion

8

0

0

0

 

 

 

 

BGU

0

1

0

0

0

1

0

0

BIU

4

1

0

0

2

0

0

0

Haifa

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

0

 

Data on the total amount of EU grants awarded to Israeli institutions of higher education (in millions of euros):

 

2019

2018

2017

2016

2015

HUJI

21.6

28.8

20.6

19.8

28.9

Weizmann

35.2

33.1

35.9

25.7

20.7

TAU

19.4

25.3

16.1

19.2

23.6

Technion

 

 

16.5

7.4

13

 

This is an opportunity to thank the excellent staff of the Research and Development Authority, who assist greatly in preparing the grant proposals. We are part of the pan-European effort to maintain the ERC’s scope of research despite the economic crisis.

6. New faculty members. In recent months, the University has approved the recruitment of about 50 new faculty members. In the upcoming academic year, at least 51 new faculty members will begin serving in tenure-track positions, with possibly an additional 4 new recruits (some of the admitted faculty chose to begin their term in another year, and some who were approved for admission last year will begin their term this year). Among the 51 new faculty, 22 are in the humanities and social sciences faculties and 29 are in the experimental sciences. Of these, 20 are women (38%) (13 in non-empirical sciences, 59%; and 7 in experimental sciences, 24%); 2 of the new faculty members are Arabs (4%); and 5 faculty members (10%) join the HUJI faculty from abroad (i.e., until now, they were not Israeli citizens). The names of the new recruits are listed in the appendix to the Hebrew version of this letter.

At present, the University consists of 940 tenure-track faculty members (and when adding the faculty members in the other senior academic tracks, we have 994 full-time positions). Of the 940 faculty members, 454 are in the non-empirical sciences, and 486 in the empirical sciences. After deducting the number of retirements expected during the year, we expect that the university will be the academic home of 957 tenure-track faculty members. In the past four years (2017-2021), we benefited a net increase of approximately 65 tenure-track faculty members.

We continue to wish for a quick and safe return to normalcy. Be well and keep well.

Best regards,

Barak Medina, Rector