Rector's Update - November 2018

November 25, 2018


Dear Colleagues,

This update deals mostly with research productivity at the University. Four brief  updates precede this discussion.

1. The exhibition Transfer of Knowledge deals with specific aspects of the history of the Hebrew University and is now open at the National Library. It is one outcome of a large-scale project, headed by Prof. Yfaat Weiss, creating a digital, multi-lingual catalogue for the university archive. The exhibition, curated by Ada Vardi and Adi Livny, focuses on the move of students and scholars from Nazi Germany to the Hebrew University (more than half of the initial faculty originated from or trained in German speaking countries).

2. The Hebrew University for Youth is a unit that operates several programs for gifted high school pupils, as well as other activities aimed at attracting high school children to academia. Faculty members are encouraged to contact Dr. Osnat Cohen, the unit’s director, for potential cooperation. 

3. The Unit for Languages Studies at the Faculty of Humanities has been undergoing a substantial process of renewal. Under the leadership of the faculty’s outgoing dean, Prof. Dror Wahrman, and the unit’s academic director, Chaya Fisher, a new teaching scheme has been developed in accordance with the European CEFR standard and emphasizes the practical uses of language. The teaching of German and Chinese has already been adapted to the new method, and gradually follows the teaching of French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, and Japanese, and in the future Arabic. The University also offers Hebrew language courses free of charge to faculty members.

4. The Cyber Security Research Center is operated jointly by the Rachel and Selim Banin School of Computer Science and Engineering and the Faculty of Law and aims at promoting groundbreaking academic research in the fields of information technology, law and criminology. In the recent meeting of the University’s international Executive Board, Mr. Mikey Federmann, the outgoing Chairman of the Board of Governors, announced a substantial generous gift to the CSRC (following his previous generous gifts to the Federmann School of Public Policy and to the Federmann Center for the Study of Rationality).

5. Recently developed new Teaching Programs include a program in Computational Medicine, which is already operating this year; an undergraduate program in Brain Sciences; and a revised program in Electrical Engineering.

6. The scope of research activity at the University requires attention. Various indicators recently published have shown a (relative) drop in the volume of research generated at the University. Among these indicators, the Academic Ranking of World Universities 2018 (“Shanghai Ranking”), in which our overall ranking rose to 95th place, but our score in academic publications is relatively low (please see the detailed analysis of our overall ranking, and of our filed-specific ranking in the academic publications factor). In addition, our research score calculated by the Planning and Budgeting Committee (PBC), which determines our public funding, has fallen. This score reflects the number of publications in academic journals, weighted according to the journals’ impact factor (a detailed comparative analysis across universities and fields is presented here); as well as our success in obtaining competitive research grants. The result is a troubling decline in our share in higher education public funding.

The results of these indicators is complex. First, the quantitative evaluation is not sufficiently sensitive to the number of faculty members, and the current process of an increase in this number at the Hebrew University is expected to positively affect our results. Second, it is clear that focusing exclusively on quantitative measures does not reflect the overall quality of our research (for an interesting discussion see here). Additionally, the quantitative measures fail to account for publications of books and chapters, as well as presentations in competitive conferences.

It is clear that academic considerations should prevail in directing our research activity. Our primary aim is to conduct research that will have substantial scientific contribution. At the same time, when all other relevant factors are (almost) equal, one should prefer publications in high IF academic journals. The same is true regarding applying for competitive research grants. Obtaining grants is critical for research, not only due to the grants' direct contributions but also through its major effect on the University’s resources available to support research activity.

Thanks for your cooperation and your commitment to ensure the Hebrew University’s academic excellence, and as a byproduct its financial strength.

Yours, Barak