Update | August 2022

15 August, 2022

Dear colleagues,

I am happy to update you on the state of our University. The numerical data presented here, on the degree of student satisfaction with teaching and our ranking in various indices, are indicators, not conclusive evidence, of our degree of success in achieving our goals.

1. Student Satisfaction and Teaching. We collect feedback from students on the extent to which we are meeting their expectations in three main ways. The first way is through meetings of heads of the academic units with student representatives to receive ongoing feedback, including suggestions for improvement. The second way is a survey conducted at the end of each course, in which students report their satisfaction with the teaching in various courses. Table 1 shows a summary of the average scores of students’ satisfaction with teaching in all courses at the University (on a scale from 1 to 9, with adjustments for large courses).

table 1

In 2021/2022 we managed to maintain high scores in teacher satisfaction. However, there is a decrease in the degree of student satisfaction with courses. This table shows the averages in each of the faculties at the University (and details on how the average is calculated). While is some units the results continue to be excellent (noteworthy units: humanities, law, dentistry and occupational therapy), in others, there is a noticeable, and sometimes significant decrease in satisfaction with courses.

The heads of the academic units must draw lessons from the findings, both regarding particular courses and teachers, as well as the overall evaluation. Evaluation of the quality of teaching, which is partially based on the degree of satisfaction reported by the students, is an important consideration in decisions on promotion and tenure. The relatively low satisfaction with the courses is sometimes the result of a reality in which courses are not refreshed and updated and there is no thorough discussion of the teaching plan in the department. Each department must hold a detailed discussion of the curriculum at least once every three years, examining in detail the curricula of the various courses, the teaching methods, and the evaluation methods. The current situation is not good enough. Soon, the Teaching and Learning unit team, led by its incoming head, Ilan Benshalom, together with the team preparing the University's strategic plan, is expected to publish detailed recommendations for activities in this area of ​​teaching quality at the University.

The third way in which we receive feedback is through an annual survey, in which students report their satisfaction with their studies in in the department and their studies at the University overall. The survey was conducted during the summer months. This year, about 7,000 undergraduate and master’s degree students responded to the survey. A summary of the aggregate data, which is not final yet, is detailed in Table 2 (the average of the scores received, on a scale of 1-5: 1 – not satisfied at all; 2 – little satisfaction; 3 – moderate satisfaction; 4 – high satisfaction; 5 – very high satisfaction):

table 2

This year, for the first time, there is a decrease in student satisfaction. This a worrying result, and we should examine the reasons and act to improve the situation. The data relating to each department will be published in the coming weeks. Many thanks to the Dean of Students’ staff, led by Guy Harpaz (and the academic advisors, Shaul Oreg and Lilach Sagiv), and Yehuda Tzur, for leading the survey.

I would like to add three comments, alongside the report on the degree of student satisfaction:

a) Teachers report a decrease in student attendance in classes. Students absenteeism from classes stems from various reasons, including: availability of recordings, the pressure placed on students to work while studying at the University (to gain relevant experience and to earn a living), participation in another course taught at the same time, and the assumption, which is sometimes wrong, that there is no real benefit from attending a class that takes place in the format of a lecture, without active participation of students. Absence from classes is frustrating, because of its adverse effect on the quality of teaching and learning, and often, absence from classes results in a high rate of failure in certain courses.

Class attendance issues are a matter that every instructor should deal with and be discussed with the students. For each course, the syllabus should state, and this is a reminder that the course description should be updated in the yearly course book, that there is an obligation to attend classes; the accepted norm is an obligation to attend at least 80% of the sessions, even if the instructor does not intend to enforce this. This is a matter that cannot be changed retrospectively, after the beginning of the semester. In small classes (up to 30 participants or so) and practice groups, it is advisable to enforce compulsory attendance. In larger classes, it is appropriate to consider incentives for class attendance, such as tests held during class (at a time that is not announced in advance), a bonus for active participation, guided solution of questions and encouragement of active learning during class, and more. The class recordings are an important means of learning and it is better not to completely limit the availability of the recordings.

b) Courses with a high failure rate are a matter that continues to concern us. In the second semester of the 2021/2022 academic year, we had about 60 courses in which over 15% of the students received a final failing grade after taking the first final exam of the course. In one of the courses (in a unit on the Mount Scopus campus), the failure rate reached 75%. We do not retroactively correct grades ("factor") automatically. At the same time, a high failure rate obligates us to inquire the reasons for this result at each specific course. It is certainly possible that after such an examination it will be found that there was no flaw in the instructor's course of action. Even then, we should identify the reasons for the high failure rate and address them. For example, it is possible that the reason is that many of those who failed the course did not attend classes or did not submit assignments. In such cases, the problem must be addressed using the methods mentioned above. It is possible that the reason is the students’ lack of preparedness to understand the material taught in the course, and a preparatory course should be added (if necessary, during the summer, as several units do). It could also be that the curriculum in previous courses should be changed, or that active practice sessions and assignments should be added, etc. In appropriate cases, the admission requirements should be adjusted.

c) Last year, we launched an initiative to move to calculating course credits according to the load of learning. In the current system, the number of credits for each course is determined by the number of in-class meetings with the lecturer. This is an anachronistic method, that was abandoned in Europe. As part of the Bologna principles for calculating credit points in European universities (ECTS), which we seek to implement, calculation of credit points is done according to the scope of the learning (including the scope of reading material, recorded lectures, submitted assignments, and mid-term exams). This will express recognition that a significant part of learning is done outside of meetings with the lecturer in class. 

Accordingly, each instructor should indicate in the course description in the yearly course book, as part of updating the syllabus, the learning load, alongside the credit point calculation according to the traditional method. In the learning credit calculation method, each credit reflects an average study of 90 minutes per week. The default is that the learning credits in each course are 1.5 times the credit points (so that a 2 credit course will have 3 learning points). The teachers should determine the scope of assignments in the course based on the number of learning credits in the course. A teacher who finds that the optimal academic learning load in the course deviates, upwards or downwards, from that which results from the standard conversion by a factor of 1.5, may contact the teaching committee, with a reasoned request to determine a different learning load for the course. The teacher's teaching load continues to be calculated according to the traditional credit points method. The new method will allow students to anticipate their learning load during the course.

2. Achievements in Research. The University's scholars excel in research, as shown in our achievements in the indices that measure various aspects of research contribution.

a) Israel Science Foundation research grants. The ISF allocates research grants totaling approximately NIS 200 million annually (a summary of the data is attached here). The achievements of university researchers in this field reflect the quality of the research we do. Many thanks to the dedicated team of the Israel Desk at the R&D Authority, led by Daniela Pascal, and to the entire team of the R&D Authority. This year, the university's researchers won approximately 23.3% of the total sum of research grants awarded by the ISF. This is a decrease compared to last year's exceptional result, 26.6%, which is mainly explained by a 13% decrease in the number of our submissions. The total amount of winnings remains similar to last year. These are very good achievements.

Table 3 provides data on our achievements in the field of personal research grants over time:

table 3


Our winning percentages are stable (with a decrease in the humanities and an increase in social sciences). In the entire fund, the rate of applications winning a grant is 31.2% (social sciences - 26.3%, humanities - 37.3%, life sciences and medicine - 31%, exact sciences - 33.7%), thus our winning rate remains higher than average (especially in the social sciences and exact sciences).

Our achievement in individual research grants is also good compared to the other institutions, but we dropped to second place. The number of submissions by Tel Aviv University was greater than ours this year (333 for them compared to 309 for us), while their winning rate is similar to ours:

table 4


Table 5 shows data on the percentages of the total amounts of personal grants, compared over the years among the various institutions:

table 5

In addition to the personal research grants, "Groundbreaking Research" grants were awarded for the first time this year—eleven grants amounting to approximately NIS 4 million each. HUJI researchers won 3 of the 11 grants. We extend warm congratulations to the winners: Elisheva Baumgarten, Hagai Bergman and Ariel Knafo-Noam. Here is the data summary:

table 6

Additionally, we won 16 personal equipment grants for new staff, out of 66 awarded in total (24%); and 2 equipment grants for “middle of the road” researchers, out of 11 (18%). The total amount of our winnings this year so far is about NIS 46 million (we are still awaiting a decision in the field of personalized medicine), very similar to last year. In terms of percentages, we decreased slightly from last year's extraordinary rate:

table 7

Our partners at Hadassah also attained an excellent achievement: similar to last year, this year, Hadassah research doctors again won 4 of the 7 grants designated for research doctors (57%). This is an opportunity to thank Re’em Sari, who is completing a successful five-year tenure as Vice President of Research and Development, and congratulate the incoming Vice President, Aharon Palmon. Thanks also to Pablo Kizelsztein, who completes his successful term as the director of our R&D unit. 

b) International rankings. Each of the various rankings provide a different perspective on the state of research at the University. A certain improvement in our situation is evident in all of the rankings:

(1) Shanghai index. Among the international rankings of academic institutions, this index gains media prominence. In the past (since this index began publication, in 2003) we were ranked between the 55th and 85th places. Starting in 2017, our ranking dropped, and apart from 2018 (when we were ranked 95th), in the other years we were ranked outside the top 100 (our exact ranking was 101, but the index editors' groups all institutions ranking between 101 and 150 in one group, without detail). Last year, we returned to the top 100, and this year we moved up to 77th place (Table 8):

table 8

The Shanghai index reflects only certain aspects in the evaluation of the academic quality of institutions, but the improvement in our ranking is great news. Here, too, thanks are due to the researchers and to the research supporters at the University, for their excellent and very hard work, and to the International Office staff that is in charge of our efforts in understanding the indices.

(2) Nature Index. This index, which is published by the journal Nature, counts the share of researchers from each institution in publications published in 82 leading journals in the natural sciences (and, separately, only in the two leading journals). The calculation assigns a uniform weight to each author, regardless of the order in which the researcher appears in the list of authors (therefore without considering the relative contribution to the research). This causes some bias in the measurement. In the ranking that refers to the 82 top journals in the database, we are ranked second, after the Weizmann Institute. Here, too, we see a trend of improvement (the rankings in the table are among academic institutions worldwide):

table 9

The trend of improvement continues also in the index of publications in the two leading journals, Science and Nature. Here our ranking is highly impressive:

table 10


The relative strength of Israeli academia in the field of natural sciences is reflected in the Nature index: after adjusting for the number of residents in each country, Israel ranks third in the world (after Switzerland and Singapore, and before Denmark, Sweden, the USA, Germany, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Australia, Canada, Austria, Finland, Belgium, France, Norway, South Korea, and Japan).

(3) Leiden index. This index counts the total number of articles in which the institution’s researchers participated (ignoring their relative share in the research and the number of authors, so that each participation in an article is counted as a complete article) as well as the number and proportion of articles of each institution whose number of citations is in the top ten percent of the articles in the relevant field:

table 11


The improvement in our ranking, which took place primarily in recent years, is not yet reflected in this index, which refers to previous years. (Tel Aviv University’s high ranking is due in part to the fact that articles by research doctors who have an academic appointment at that university are also associated with the institution. We are acting to correct the measurements in this matter).

c) Achievements according to the Planning and Budgeting Committee (PBC) budget for research. The PBC budgeting model, allocates NIS 3.2 billion annually to the universities, according to the relative achievements of the institutions' researchers in the following aspects: the number of publications (after weighing the Impact Factor of the journals in which the articles were published) (34%); amounts won in competitive research grants (37%) and other research grants (12%); and the number of research students (17%). The PBC data for 2023 reflects the research activity a few years ago (the publications in 2019 and 2020; the winning of grants in 2020 and 2021; and the research students in 2021). The data below (Table 12) reflects the share (in percentages) of each institution in the budget for research. We continue to lead, and the gap between us and Tel Aviv University (which is similar to us in terms of the number of faculty members and the mix of fields) is growing:

table 12


Maintaining this trend of improving the research activity at the University is conditional on the continued investment in the promotion of research infrastructures and in providing means to realize the scientific success potential of faculty members.

3. Additional issues. a) Following the report in the previous update I sent, regarding new position holders at the University: at the Rothberg International School, Noam Shoval has completed a successful term leading the school. Oron Shagrir, the Vice President for International Affairs, will now also serve as the head of the school. Alongside him, Yael Levin will serve in the position of the associate provost for academic affairs. Vice President of Research and Development, Re’em Sari, is completing a successful five-year tenure. The incoming Vice President is Aharon Palmon. Aharon is ending his term as head of the Authority for Research Students in the Experimental Sciences, and his successor will be elected soon.

b) The administration’s directive on gender-neutral language in University publications was recently approved. It determines that all University publications will be written using gender-neutral language, as much as possible. This aim may be obtained in various ways, including by using the plural form; using words that are written the same way in male and female gender or using adjectives; use of general wording (repetition of the word in the masculine and feminine); using separation marks to mark when addressing both sexes; or using a multi-gender font.

c) The University Senate recently approved comprehensive amendments to the regulations pertaining to appointments and promotions. At this point, the corrections deal only with the regular academic track. The new regulations take effect from September 1, 2022 and will be published on the University’s academic administration website.

These are the main adjustments: in exceptional cases there will now be an option to make an appointment on a part-time basis also in the regular track; introduction of a special arrangement for the procedure for granting tenure at the beginning of the University appointment (for those who transfer to us from another institution); clarification that in tenure and promotion procedures, the achievements of faculty members that will be taken into account include the fields of research, teaching and contribution to the community; a determination that the ranking of the candidates by the screening committee should also take into account the need to ensure adequate representation for candidates of gender and groups in society whose scope of representation in the unit is less than reasonable; the rules regarding restrictions regarding conflict of interest in service in the various bodies have been updated (among other things, limiting the participation of the doctoral supervisor in the discussion of the candidate in the screening and appointments committee); an obligation has been established to update the candidate on the progress of the procedures and the details of the decisions of the various committees, in order to provide detailed feedback on the evaluation of the candidate's academic activity; in the list of publications, it is mandatory to include all of the candidate’s publications that have been accepted for publication until the date of the University appointments committee meeting (a dividing line will be drawn between the publications that were before the external reviewers and publications that were added afterward, and committee members will decide if the additional publications will be included as new publications in the next procedure or not provided these publications were not required for the purpose of reaching a decision).

At this stage, we have decided not to switch to a format of only three ranks, where the admission rank is lecturer or senior lecturer, and the rank of associate professor is necessarily awarded upon receiving tenure. The issue will be revisited in the near future. The possibility to promote faculty members who were hired at the rank of lecturer to the rank of senior lecturer as part of the interim evaluation, at the end of the first trial period is clarified in the new regulations. Many thanks to Vice Rector Lilach Sagiv, who led the committee’s work, and to all of the committee members, for their excellent work.

d) The committee charged with determining the University's strategy is currently completing its draft recommendations. Many thanks to the faculty members who volunteered to read the draft recommendations and participate in a critical discussion regarding them. Once the revised version is completed, it will be circulated the entire University community for comments.

e) We are working to promote the research in the field of food systems and alternative proteins. An inaugural conference of the Hebrew University initiative in this field will take place on Wednesday, October 19, 2022 at our Faculty of Agriculture campus, in Rehovot. Additional details will be provided later.

f) Thanks to a comment I received on the previous update letter, I would like to thank our emeriti professors, who continue to teach voluntarily at the University and contribute to various aspects of our academic activity.

g) The Hebrew University Orchestra welcomes advanced string and wind players. Orchestral rehearsals place on the Givat Ram Campus at Beit Bretter on Tuesdays between 7 pm and 10 pm. To schedule an audition, please contact the conductor, Anita Kamien, kamien@netvision.net.il.


Finally, on a personal note: This is the last update letter that I am writing in my position as rector of the University (this might explain the letter’s unusual length; it is difficult to part…). Fair treatment to the university's Staff members and students by all members of our community is, to my view, our top priority, and I hope that we have succeeded in improving in this regard, although we still have a way to go. I apologize to those whose justified requests I was unable to fulfill, and to those who were hurt by my words or actions. Thank you very much for your excellent collaboration, for the good spirit and for your generosity. I enjoyed much the work as Rector, thanks to the excellent administrative and academic faculty that I had the privilege to work with, and thanks to our outstanding students. I wish the incoming rector, Tamir Sheafer, much success.

Yours, Barak