Tel Aviv medicine faculty ups minimum age to 20
As of next year, only candidates 20 or older may register as medical students at Tel Aviv University, the university's medical faculty has decided.
Adalah, the Legal Center for the Rights of Arab Minority in Israel, has demanded on behalf of the Arab students' union at TAU that the university revoke the age restriction, claiming it discriminates against Arab students.
"It is well known that most Arab students do not serve in the army and therefore, those who wish to study at university usually register after graduating from high school," attorney Sausen Zahar wrote to TAU president Itamar Rabinovitz and medical faculty dean Yossi Mekori.
"Any age restriction on registration ... excludes those students from medical studies and prevents them from continuing their education in academic studies consecutively after high school," she wrote.
The restriction will not apply to soldier students, who register at the age of 18.
The number of Arab medical students has doubled this year from last, but the new restriction is expected to reduce their number considerably or even prevent them from studying medicine altogether.
The TAU medical faculty dismissed the discrimination claim. "The admission age was restricted after students under 20 were found to have less depth and mental fortitude, which are required of people who must deal with patients on a daily basis," TAU legal adviser Leah Cagan wrote to Adalah yesterday.
Zahar rejected this explanation. Had this been the real reason for restricting the admission age, she said, the university would have applied the restriction to soldier students as well.
TAU admits that the soldier students have an advantage, but says this is not discrimination. A university spokesman suggested that Arab youngsters "use the same spectrum of choices that a young Jew has," meaning that the Arabs should enlist in the IDF and try to get into medical school as soldier students.
TAU already has a device to screen "immature" students. About three years ago it introduced a new admission test of more than five hours, consisting of simulations, role play, quizzes and personal interviews. The test is intended to indicate which candidates are more mature and have more experience with people.
Since the test's introduction, a number of Arab students under the age of 20 have been admitted. "Therefore the candidates' maturity is not a function of age, but of personal qualifications, motivation and character," Zahar said.
Srur Aboud, a medical student and chairman of TAU's Arab students union, said that in 2004, a year before the new tests were introduced, 13 Arab students were admitted to the university's medical school. In 2005 only five were admitted and in 2006 - eight. This year, Aboud says, the Arab candidates' awareness of the test's requirements and expectations grew and the number of candidates rose to 16.
Then the university decided to limit the students' age directly. Aboud said all the students who were admitted this year were under 20, as at other universities. The Arab students will now be forced to go overseas for their medical studies, or study subjects they are not interested in, he said.
In recent years other universities have restricted the students' admission age. Haifa University has decided that no students under 20 would be admitted to nursing, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, communication disorders or social work.
A survey conducted by the Knesset Research and Information Center in June compares the admission methods at universities in 13 countries, including the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Denmark and Australia. In the U.S. students are admitted to medical studies after completing a B.A., but Israel is the only country in which a university has a policy preventing certain groups from being admitted on the basis of age.
Zahar says previous court rulings have pointed out that discrimination can exist even when a motive or intention to discriminate is not proved. What counts is the result. "The result is a restriction that discriminates on a national basis. The university makes indirect use of the military service issue, taking advantage of the fact that Arab students usually do not serve in the army," she says.
The university's decision not to apply the age limit to student soldiers who register at 18 corroborates Adalah's claim that the university's move is discrimination, she says.