Students in Israel Struggle to Meet Expenses, Survey Shows

The typical Israeli college student spends nearly $14,000 more a year than he or she makes — even with a job.

Students at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, March 31, 2015.
Olivier Fitoussi

A typical Israeli undergraduate, even one who works, spends around 15,200 shekels ($3,950) above his or her income during each of the three years of study. That, according to a survey published this week by the National Union of Israeli Students.

The survey of some 11,000 students at Israeli colleges and universities found they had monthly expenses on average of 5,120 shekels but for the 83% of students who say they also work their average monthly income is just 3,849 shekels.

They also reported that their expenses are growing quickly, by an average of 5% in 2015 at a time when inflation is zero to negative. Housing costs, they reported, were up 6.2% and food costs rose 11%.

“The gap between monthly expenses and income for working students shows that without money from parents or a scholarship, getting a bachelor’s degree is possible but very complicated,” said union chairman Gilad Arditi.

He said the pressure to work to support themselves meant that students have less time to put into their studies. Arditi urged the government to move ahead with plans to build dormitories for 20,000 students, which would help alleviate housing costs.

The survey found that students from higher-income families were more likely to attend one of Israel’s universities, where tuition is heavily subsidized. While 58% of respondents from high-earning families said they were enrolled at a university, compared to 41% of middle-income students and 31% of lower-income students.

Only 17% of high-income students attended a private college, versus 27% of middle-income students and 31% of lower-income students. The remainder said they were at teachers’ colleges.

This week the Council for Higher Education in Israel reported that enrollment in undergraduate programs declined this year, for the second time in three years.

Student enrollment for the 2016-17 academic year, which begins next week, fell 0.6% from last year, to about 235,000, the council said. The decline was in student numbers at the universities, which dropped 4.1% to about 75,300 and at the Open University, where it dropped 2.9% to 41,500.

At the academic colleges, however, the number registered for the years was up 3.2% to 92,800.

Israel’s institutions of higher education enjoyed a big rise in enrollment in the 1990s as Russian immigration swelled the population, the growth of colleges opened up new places for study and employers demanded better academic credentials.

The pace slowed sharply in the 2000s and finally in 2014 the number registered for bachelor’s programs fell. It briefly recovered in 2015, only to resume falling this year.

The council attributed the decline to the slower growth of Israel’s population and to the fact that the percentage of high school students who pass their matriculation (bagrut) exams hasn’t been rising.

Graduate enrollments continued to grow this year. The number of masters’ students climbed 3.1% to 63,000 and the number of doctoral candidates rose 1.7%, to about 11,000, the council said.