Enrollment at Sapir Academic College, which is located outside Sderot in the south of the country, is up 11 percent over last year. College officials say there have been no student withdrawals due to the rocket fire during Operation Protective Edge.
However, the opening of the college’s summer semester was postponed from yesterday until tomorrow due to the renewal of rocket and mortar fire. College director Dr. Nahami Paz was wounded by mortar shrapnel on Friday. Exams, which were suspended during the fighting and were meant to resume yesterday, have also been postponed. And area kibbutzim, where many Sapir students rent apartments, are concerned that some students may no longer consider kibbutz housing an option because of the rocket and tunnel threats.
So far, Sapir has registered 1,632 new students, an 11 percent increase on this time last year, and registration hasn’t yet closed. The pace of registration dropped drastically during July, yet every time there was a lull, the pace picked up again, college employees say. Historically, Gaza operations haven’t had much of an effect on the college’s enrollment; there were 1,709 new students in the academic year following Operation Cast Lead (2009) and 1,884 new students were enrolled in the year after Operation Pillar of Defense (2012.)
“The cancellations we had have been mainly for academic counseling sessions, because people were afraid of traveling here,” said a registration center employee. “But to date we haven’t had anyone cancel for security reasons.”
College spokesman Simon Tamir said this was indicative of the regard people have for the college. “We always knew how to maintain a separation between the fighting and academia,” he said. “When it was quiet here, registration was at a furious pace that any college would want, some 400 registrants a month.”
What the college and the surrounding regional councils are concerned about, however, is the effect on the local economy if students become reluctant to begin or continue renting housing in kibbutzim near the perimeter fence, like Nir Am, Kfar Aza, Nahal Oz and Erez, which have been popular with Sapir students in the past. The problem was raised at a meeting between college and kibbutz officials, during which it was decided to seek additional funding from the Finance Ministry to subsidize student rentals, which can run to 1,500 shekels ($432) a month or more.
Hadas Ayalon and Eden Sivan, two social work students at Sapir, rented adjacent living quarters last year on Kibbutz Nir Am, where a terror attack via a nearby tunnel was foiled last month. After much deliberating, Ayalon is leaving the kibbutz and renting in Be’er Sheva this year, saying the tunnel threat was decisive.
“I really enjoyed the kibbutz, but the idea that I wouldn’t be able to fall asleep at night because I’m afraid had an impact. I don’t have any family to make me feel secure; I’m alone,” Ayalon said.
Sivan, however, is remaining in her kibbutz rental. “When I’m on the kibbutz I feel safe,” she said. “I was here for most of the operation, and the feeling was okay overall. When they found the tunnel I wasn’t in Nir Am, perhaps if I had been, things would look different. I hope I’m not mistaken.”
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