Some 2,000 students were admitted to sought-after programs in Israeli universities based on affirmative action initiatives, according to figures presented yesterday at a conference organized by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. One researcher told conference participants, however, that the scope of such programs remains too limited and that more applicants could be applying to them than currently are.

The affirmative action policy, which has been implemented at Israel's universities for several years now, was intended to help academically motivated students from peripheral areas and lower-income families receive a quality higher education.

A study conducted by Sigal Alon of Tel Aviv University's Department of Sociology found that students accepted through affirmative action programs perform nearly as well as those accepted through traditional means.

The country's universities remain disproportionately represented by Israel's established socio-economic classes - particularly by Ashkenazi-Jewish males, to the detriment of women, Mizrahi Jews and Arabs. These population groups are especially underrepresented among lecturers. Studies conducted in recent years indicate that just 5 to 9 percent of senior faculty are Mizrahi, and less than 1 percent are Arab.

"In the sought-after university programs, there are still many students from Ramit Aviv and Ramat Hasharon, and very few from Ofakim or Taibeh," Alon said. "This creates a situation whereby young people from the development towns 'give up' from the start, and don't even try to apply."

Alon told conference participants that of the registered students at Hebrew University, Tel Aviv University, Ben-Gurion University and the Technion Israel Institute of Technology, only 4 percent hail from communities belonging to the three lowest socio-economic rankings (though these groups account for 15 percent of the country's population), and 5 percent are Arabs (which make up 20 percent of the population).