Every year, approximately 6,000 young Jews, new immigrants from around the globe as well as more veteran Ethiopian immigrants, enjoy full financing of their undergraduate and graduate degrees. In addition, they have access to an extensive network that includes personal counselors, social workers, emotional support, social events and activities, and other services – and even help finding a job at the end of their studies. The Israel Student Authority – which celebrated its 50th birthday last year – stands behind this network. Over 300,000 immigrants owe their education to the Authority. One of them is Minister of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption Ze'ev Elkin, who is responsible for its activities and budget.
We work to help immigrant students by providing full scholarships and, in some cases, also by assisting with their living expenses, says Miri Cohen Edelstein, Director of the Israel Student Authority. The students benefit from extensive support that includes counselors who guide them on the campuses, supplementary lessons, seminars, social activities and trips to get to know the country. These are young people who made a difficult decision to move to Israel, 80% of whom made aliyah by themselves, and our goal is to connect them to Israeli society, to help them however we can, so that they not only succeed in completing their degree but also feel less alone and will want to stay in Israel after graduation.
More students are completing their degrees
Students up to the age of 27 who study for a bachelor's degree, and graduate students up to the age of 30 who make aliyah during the three years preceding their request for assistance from the Student Authority, can be eligible for assistance. Time spent in compulsory IDF service is not counted as part of the three-year period.
On occasion, the Authority expands eligibility and announces temporary directives for specific sectors of the population. Our job is not only to absorb immigrants but also to encourage aliyah, Cohen Edelstein explains. Therefore, for example, we now have a special temporary directive for students from France and Ukraine, and they receive additional assistance.
The Student Authority is clearly reaping the fruit of its hard work: in recent years there has been an increase in the number of students who complete their degrees in the standard amount of time. During 2014, the number stood at 69% and in 2015, they account for 75% of all immigrant students. An additional 22% reported that they expect to complete their degree even though they spread out their studies over a longer-than-usual period. 78% of the graduates secured jobs within one year, and 69% are employed in the field of their studies or in a similar field. Finally, 92% of the graduates declared that they intend to remain in Israel.
Approximately 40% of those who received assistance are from the Ethiopian community, the majority of whom are veteran immigrants, and even some students who were born in Israel. This is a community that faces challenges in accessing higher education, even in the second generation, notes Cohen Edelstein, and we place a great deal of importance on continuing to assist them and reducing the disparity.
Holding senior positions
The Israel Student Authority was founded in 1964 as part of the Diaspora Center of the Prime Ministers Bureau. From 1968, it was under the joint auspices of the Ministry of Absorption and Aliyah and the Jewish Agency, and since 2013 the Israel Student Authority is a department of the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption. The Authority encourages Jewish students from abroad to make aliyah and assists their academic and social integration within Israeli institutions of higher education.
From the time that the Student Authority became the responsibility of the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, the fruits of the Ministry's investment in the immigration and absorption of young people are clearly visible, both as far as their integration into higher education is concerned, and from the point of view of their impact on the Israeli economy and society in general. For example, three former beneficiaries – Eli Alalouf, Avraham Negosa, and Professor Manuel Trachtenberg – currently serve as Knesset members. Jonathan Davis, a classmate of Trachtenbergs, is now Vice President of IDC Herzliya, while approximately 400 of his students currently receive assistance from the Student Authority.
Many of our graduates have attained senior positions in Israels society and economy, and were very proud of them, asserts Miri Cohen Edelstein. Haviv Katsav, the Director General of the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption, as well as the Minister, Ze'ev Elkin, took their first steps as new immigrants thanks to the support of the Israel Student Authority. The idea is to invest in students who are likely, after their studies, to become key figures in Israels future.
Do you contact potential immigrants in their home countries before they make aliyah?
We have a Pre-Aliyah and Hasbara Department with offices in Russia, France, Spain and England that offer personalized information to prospective immigrants interested in studying in Israel but dont know where to start. We provide individual service, which includes checking their diplomas, sending their details to relevant bodies and checking with universities about the fields of study for which they can apply. Afterwards, we design an aliyah plan according to their studies. Another task is hasbara (promoting Israel). In addition to participating in fairs abroad, every year in Israel we meet more than 8,000 young people, new immigrants studying Hebrew in ulpan as well as tourists participating in programs such as Masa or Birthright. We introduce them to the assistance they would receive if they decide to make aliyah. Additionally, we have a commando unit of student presenters who describe their personal stories and explain the process based on their experiences, including the difficulties and challenges.
Programs to integrate students into Israeli society
Our policy is to integrate the immigrants among native Israelis. We work together with student councils and deans at universities and colleges in order to design activities at which new immigrants can interact with native Israeli students, explains Cohen Edelstein. Furthermore, this year we established employment mentors – a project that assists new immigrants to take their first steps in the employment world after they finish their studies. First of all, we provide a set of tools, such as how to write a CV, how to handle job interviews, etc The new immigrant lacks a social network, which is vital for obtaining job interviews. Therefore, we assign a mentor who is connected to the specific field of employment relevant to each student; the mentor guides the immigrant through the first steps of the job-search process. This project has been very successful! We have mentors in key, senior positions, and we are currently recruiting mentors for the second group that will begin in February.
The mentorship project is just one of several activities implemented by the Student Authority in order to integrate immigrant students into Israeli society. Another project is Shahak (a Hebrew acronym for Community Social Services). Through the Shahak program, students volunteer for community-service activities in a social-welfare organization of their choice, for example community centers, hospitals, youth centers, senior-citizen homes, emergency centers, or schools. Volunteering is an important stage in the absorption process since it enables the new immigrant to change his or her status from absorbed to active contributor.
Another program, the TAKA Program (TAKA being a Hebrew acronym for Pre-Academic Program), operates together with the Ministry of Education and various academic institutions. TAKA's objective is to provide students with Hebrew-language learning tools and to help them advance to a sufficient level of Hebrew fluency for exemption from further Hebrew ulpan courses. According to Cohen Edelstein, We are aware of the difficulty of studying in Hebrew, so we offer a preparatory program that in just one semester boosts students' Hebrew skills by two whole levels. Moreover, if a student requires a special Preparatory Course for New Immigrants (mechinat olim) in order to be accepted to a university, we fund the course in addition to their degree, even if together studies total four years. Up until two years ago, we only covered three years of study, but we decided that if new-immigrant students study in Israel, we should accompany them throughout their period of studies. This is a huge change and were proud of it. These new immigrants are at the forefront of modern Zionism; they leave their families in order to build new lives in Israel and to shape their futures. As a country, we are committed to helping them – and the investment is rewarded when they reach key positions and contribute back to Israeli society.
For more information about the Israel Student Authority, go to www.studentsolim.gov.il