Education has been a priority for Israel since independence, although there was already substantial growth of Jewish education under the British mandate. During Israel's earliest years, the educational system was characterized by tremendous expansion, which resulted from large-scale immigration (see ALIYA), primarily from the Middle East and North Africa, with large numbers of children, and the Compulsory Education Law of 1949. The educational system required facilities and teachers to deal with these needs, and initially, there were shortages of both. The system faced additional challenges created by the substantial immigration from numerous countries with different linguistic and educational backgrounds. The integration of Jews coming from all parts of the world continues, as a basic challenge is the differences among the various Jewish communities in education, lifestyle, history, tradition, and culture. The challenge to revive Hebrew and develop it as a living language and the centerpiece of the system was compounded by the need to blend the cultures of the numerous immigrants from the various countries of the world.
   Education is a basic element of Jewish tradition and is given a high priority in Israeli society. In 1949, the Knesset passed the Compulsory Education Law, which made regular school attendance obligatory for all children from age 5 to 14, and tuition fees were abolished in government schools for these nine years. Since 1978, school attendance has been compulsory to age 16 and free to age 18.
   Because of the special characteristics of Israel's major communities—Jewish, Arab, and Druze—which differ in language, history, and culture, two basic school systems are maintained: the Jewish system, with instruction in Hebrew, and the Arab/Druze system, with instruction in Arabic. Both systems are financed by and accountable to the Ministry of Education and Culture but enjoy a large measure of internal autonomy and independence. The Arab/Druze education system, with separate schools for Arab and Druze pupils, provides the standard academic and vocational curricula, adapted to emphasize Arab or Druze culture and history. Religious instruction in Islam or Christianity is provided by Arab schools if the community elders so determine. Due to the Compulsory Education Law and changes in traditional Arab/Druze attitudes toward formal education, there has been a substantial increase in general school attendance, particularly at the high school level, as well as in the number of female pupils.
   Israel has one of the highest rates of postsecondary education in the world, with significant achievements in academic-based scientific and industrial research and development, as well as several Nobel laureates.
   Institutions of higher education in Israel were established prior to the founding of the state in 1948 and have figured prominently in its development. The first three institutions—Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Weizmann (originally Sieff) Institute of Science—opened in 1924, 1925, and 1934, respectively, in order to train engineers, scientists, and architects to build a new state and to attract Jewish students and scholars from around the world. The quality and quantity of high education offerings in Israel have grown exponentially since independence. In the succeeding years, Israel established another 6 world-class public universities and more than 40 regional, vocational, and professional colleges and schools.
   By the 21st century, more than a quarter of a million students attended an institution of higher learning. The eight major universities in Israel are Technion, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Weizmann Institute of Science, Bar Ilan University, Tel Aviv University, Haifa University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and Open University of Israel. While publicly financed, all schools of higher education maintain academic freedom and function with a great measure of independence. Israel's universities conduct major research projects in addition to teaching students in the full range of academic disciplines. The Council for Higher Education is an independent public body comprised of government officials, leading academics, and community members appointed by the president of Israel that functions as an accrediting and regulatory body; proposes research, planning, and development priorities to the government; and coordinates between and among the various institutions.

Historical Dictionary of Israel. .

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