New Bill in Israel Will Require Students to Do Community Service to Graduate

Reserve army duty would fulfill the requirement; ministers to vote Sunday on whether to support new volunteering requirement

Students at Ben Gurion University, Beer Sheva, Israel.
Ilan Assayag

A proposed new law would require college students to carry out community volunteer work to fulfill their course requirements as part of their studies.

The bill, sponsored by Knesset member Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu) also has the support of Education Minister Naftali Bennett. Under the proposed law, college students will be required to take a two-credit “community involvement course.”

On Sunday, the Ministerial Committee on Legislation will vote whether to give the proposal official government backing. 

The proposed law does not state how many hours of volunteer work will be required to pass the new course, but it does allow colleges and universities to recognize at least 10 days of reserve military duty in a year as meeting the obligation instead of having to take the course.

While the Council of Higher Education may decide to oppose the proposal because it restricts the academic freedom of institutions of higher learning, the Ministerial Committee is still expected to give the bill government backing.

High school students must also do at least 60 hours of volunteering and community service to receive their matriculation (Bagrut) certificates.

The goal of the proposed law is to make students more involved in society and the community, “while creating a direct connection between their degree with an emphasis on their profession,” the introduction to the bill states. The volunteering will contribute to “reducing inequality and connecting with the less well-off” parts of Israeli society.   

Ben Ari said the bill was written “with the recognition and understanding of the academic freedom of the institutions of higher education and attempts to minimize the involvement with it, but with the understanding that students too – like youths – must be involved in community activities during their studies, and to get to know the social environment in which they study.”   

At the same time, the CHE has made things easier for the families of those who do reserve duty, Yedioth Ahronoth reported last week. An official decision of the CHE now allows students who are parents of children under 13 and whose spouses are on active duty in the reserves to come late to classes in the morning and leave early in the afternoon, in order to take care of their children.

These students will be allowed to miss the first two morning hours of classes and to leave at 3 P.M. In addition, they will be allowed to postpone a course, have an additional date for tests and postpone deadlines for other work.