New Plan Aims to Bring Thousands of Jewish Students to Israel

Israel needs more English-language programs and an adjustment to the academic calendar so it matches up better with rest of world, official says.

A plan that would bring tens of thousands of Jewish university students to Israel each year on study abroad programs is now under consideration, a senior policymaker on higher education disclosed on Monday.

Speaking at the Ashdod Conference on Immigration and Absorption, Professor Manuel Trajtenberg, head of the planning and budgeting committee of the Council for Higher Education in Israel, said these overseas students could provide a vast new pool of potential immigrants to Israel.

Today, about 300,000 students are enrolled in Israeli institutions of higher education. Trajtenberg said it was difficult to know exactly how many Jewish students were enrolled in universities abroad, but his rough estimate was somewhere between 300,000 and 400,000. Our national goal should be to have these Jewish students from overseas make up 10 percent of the student body here each year, he said.

To fulfill this goal, Trajtenberg noted, it was important to develop more programs and create more colleges and departments with English-language curriculums and courses. In addition, he said, adjustments would need to be made in the Israeli school calendar so that semesters began and ended in Israel approximately the same time they did overseas.

In recent years, Israeli universities have established numerous English-language programs and courses that cater to international students, though not necessarily to Jewish students. This trend has aroused strong opposition among those who believe strongly that educational institutions in Israel should teach in Hebrew, the official language of the state.

Students enrolled in these English-language programs generally pay higher tuition rates than do Israeli students enrolled in standard Hebrew-language programs. But the tuition rates these overseas students pay in Israel are still notably cheaper than those they would have paid for similar programs in the United States – a key factor behind increased enrollment in such programs.

Trajtenberg, an Argentinean-born economist and professor at Tel Aviv University, headed the committee formed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address issues raised by the social protest movement in the summer of 2011.

Emil Salman