There are two basic categories of people who land at Ben Gurion Airport and then head straight to one of Israels universities or colleges. The first group consists of young Jews from the Diaspora who decide to make aliyah. They arrive in Israel after having been accepted to an Israeli academic degree program and begin their new lives as olim by studying for a B.A. or M.A. The second group is made up of academic tourists who come to Israel to study but do not necessarily have plans to remain in the country after completing their degree.
Every year, the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorptions Student Authority assists over 6,000 young people who come to Israel to study. This year, there are approximately 2,000 new students who made aliyah. Around half enrolled in academic colleges, while 37% are at one of the universities and the remaining 13% are studying in other academic tracks, such as Art School. While the vast majority – nearly 70% – come to Israel for their undergraduate (B.A.) degrees, more than 10% enroll in graduate programs, 7% sign up for an academic preparatory program, and the others study in a variety of other tracks.
Although some of the people who contact us know exactly what and where they want to study, most just know that they want to be in Israel, says Naomi Shmuel, the national coordinator for English-speaking students at the Department of Academic Studies of the Student Authoritys Pre-Aliyah Services. I lay out options, taking into account their background, previous qualifications, age, Hebrew level and so on. I usually recommend studying Hebrew first, since it is such a huge change to live here and function in Hebrew.
According to Shmuel, many of those who turn to her for assistance are young adults who are looking for an identity and want to belong.
Although the fact that college tuition is much lower in Israel than in the U.S. may play a role in the decision to come to Israel, financial considerations are not the main motivation for most students, insists Shmuel. Just as Israeli kids typically travel to South America after the army, for Diaspora Jews Israel is the big trip. It is a way to gain independence and to discover their Jewish identity, she affirms.
The older ones, in their late twenties, who usually come for graduate studies, often have other reasons to choose Israel. In addition to the lower costs and the appeal of an international experience, many students in this demographic also hope to find a partner for life.
Support and assistance
The Israeli Government provides financial assistance and other forms of support to young adults who come to Israel to study. Those pursuing a B.A. receive NIS 10,000 a year for three years to cover tuition costs, while M.A. students receive NIS 13,000 a year. In order to qualify for this financial aid, students must be new immigrants to Israel (olim) and they must study for a degree that they dont already have. There is also a cut-off age for eligibility: 23 for academic preparatory programs (mechina), 27 for B.A. degrees and 30 for M.A. degrees.
Shmuel points out that students from countries where there are no national high-school exams must usually do a one-year preparatory program (mechina) prior to starting their academic degree. However, Bar-Ilan University and most colleges do not require a mechina.
Many immigrant students are interested in the numerous English-language degree programs available in Israel. These programs are generally more expensive than the Hebrew programs and, as a result, the government aid does not cover the full tuition cost. Another disadvantage is that the academic options in English are more limited, adds Shmuel.
The Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorptions involvement with the students wellbeing goes much beyond paying their tuition. They also organize social activities and trips around the country, and provide tutors to help them with their studies. Moreover, counselors and social workers are in contact with them on a regular basis to ensure that their transition is as smooth as possible.
A range of options
Young adults from the Diaspora who want to pursue an academic degree in Israel without the long-term commitment of making aliyah have several ways of doing so. One way is to apply directly to specific universities or colleges and make all the necessary arrangements independently or with the help of the academic institution. It is usually not a problem to receive a student visa for the duration of ones studies.
A popular option is to come on a Masa program. Masa Israel Journey, a joint project of the Government of Israel and the Jewish Agency for Israel, offers over 200 study, internship and volunteer programs all over Israel lasting at least five months. Their Study Abroad department includes dozens of academic programs, ranging from semesters in Israel to full undergraduate and graduate degrees at a large choice of Israeli universities and colleges.
There are three main reasons people want to study in Israel, notes Yonatan Barkan, Masa Israels Director of Academic Affairs. The first is the academic level – Israel is at the forefront of academic research in many fields and its universities have an excellent reputation. The second reason is the price; tuition is much lower in Israel than in many other countries. The third reason has to do with the global education trend. It gives people a competitive edge to show that they have had an international experience. Its a huge advantage during job interviews, he explains.
Every year, several hundred young adults come to study in Israel through Masa, says Barkan. They come from all over the world, even from countries such as India and China. Lately there has been an increase in the number of non-Jews coming to study here. All the academic programs offered by Masa are taught in English, so that language is not an issue. Masa also provides grants and scholarships to eligible participants, depending on their age, country of origin and program cost.
By being part of a Masa program, foreign students join the Masa community and benefit from everything that Masa offers the participants on all of its programs – seminars, Shabbatonim, leadership summits, concerts, etc These events are a good way for people on different programs around the country to socialize and make friends.
All in all, Israeli universities and colleges are interested in creating an international atmosphere on their campuses and they welcome foreign students with open arms. Most even offer special degree programs taught in English, as well as providing various forms of support to their non-Israeli and new immigrant students.
There is a plethora of different options for foreigners wishing to study in Israel – whether for a B.A., M.A. or Ph.D. degree. They just need to decide which of the many enticing programs suits them the best.