There has never been a better time to study in Jerusalem. In an effort to attract students to its numerous institutions of higher education, the municipality has declared Jerusalem Israel's first "academic city." In cooperation with the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA) and the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, the municipality has prepared a comprehensive program designed to make the city more attractive and user-friendly to students. This program includes a wide-ranging package of benefits, grants, discounts and study experiences not offered in any other Israeli city.
"Jerusalem is the only city in Israel offering such a wide variety of benefits and incentives to young people in order to encourage them to come and study in the various institutions of higher learning in the city. My aim is for Jerusalem to have 60,000 students [up from the current 40,000] studying here by 2020," says Mayor Nir Barkat.
Started with the Hebrew University, Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, Hadassah College and the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance, the program is being expanded to include Machon Lev - the Jerusalem College of Technology, David Yellin Teachers College and the Jerusalem College of Engineering. While still not officially part of it, Ma'aleh Film School, Sam Spiegel Film and Television School and the Musrara Photography School also appear on the program's Web site (www.academicity.org.il).
The benefits include rent subsidies of NIS 4,200 a year for bachelor's and master's degree students living in the downtown area; special tuition grants for those who commit to remain in Jerusalem (if the students leave after graduation, the grant becomes a loan); discounts of up to 80% on municipal tax (arnona) payments; special property tax payment booths on the campuses; discount bus passes for Egged; special Jerusalem resident cards (without the need to change place of residence on identity cards), which provide discounts for cultural events, sports events, museums, theaters and special services; and a whole array of events taking place in the city throughout the year (festivals, performances at the Sultan's Pool, street parties, fairs, etc.).
In addition, Jerusalem now has the only American-style work internship for students in their last year of studies, as well as a young communities project for students to live in neighborhoods as a community group.
A new option started this year is creating quite a buzz among prospective students. For the first time, students studying in Jerusalem will have the possibility of studying for their bachelor's degree in one institution and taking up to two courses in another without extra tuition fees. This means, for example, that someone studying at the Hebrew University can take a design course at Bezalel or a photography course at Hadassah College at no additional cost.
Moreover, Jerusalem now has the largest student village of its kind in Israel. Located on Mount Scopus, it is open to students not only from the Hebrew University but also those from most of the city's other institutions of higher learning. In addition to two-, three- and five-room furnished apartments, the student village includes a wide variety of services including a supermarket and laundromat and shuttle service to the various campuses.
For more than a decade Jerusalem, one of Israel's poorest cities, has suffered from a negative migration of young people. A few years ago, the JDA asked the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies to conduct a study (funded by the European Commission) to identify Jerusalem's strengths with an eye toward investing in them to enhance the local economy.
The study identified four factors for economic growth: biotech; new media; academia; and reducing barriers for haredi men to enter higher education. Naomi Solomon, one of the original researchers, was asked to make a more detailed study of the possibilities for academia as a growth engine for the city.
"Academia contributes to growth because it trains students and engages in research," Solomon explains, "which in turn benefits local industry. But in addition, academia is an industry in itself, employing thousands in Jerusalem and bringing in tens of thousands of students to live here. More students translate into more jobs for the city," she says.
"It is nice for Jerusalem to have a vision of 60,000 students by the end of the next decade, but how do we get there?" she adds. "While higher education in the rest of the country has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years, with dozens of new colleges added, only one new college has been added to the city recently - the Jerusalem College of Engineering. Part of the reason is that the city has had many institutions of higher education for years, but in reality Jerusalem has been losing its attractiveness and relevance for young people for quite some time." Solomon found that of those students accepted to study at Jerusalem institutions, 33% decide to study elsewhere. This is in comparison to 7% to 14% for Tel Aviv University and Ben-Gurion University.
"This is a huge difference, and it is not because these students found more prestigious places to study," says Solomon. "The Hebrew University is the top-ranked university in the country. The majority of those deciding not to come to Jerusalem did so because of factors connected with the city. Nearly 90% cited some reason connected with the city for not coming - including too expensive, too haredi, etc. This is a marketing failure not connected to academic excellence," she notes. "The city had to do something to improve its image. It was decided that the municipality and academia need to work in tandem. If the institutions of higher education cannot attract the best and the brightest to study here because young people do not want to come to Jerusalem, this does not bode well for the future of both academia and the city," says Solomon.
Special committees were set up to bring all the parties together, to look at the larger picture of academia and the city. Grants, discounts, scholarships and dormitories can help offset some of the expenses. But a campaign was needed to show Israeli young people that Jerusalem is not what they see on the news but rather an exciting, fun place to live and study.
Mayor Barkat sent letters of welcome to all candidates for admission. The mayor has initiated a campaign on Army Radio. On student day, candidates were invited to participate in campus events. The project is now sending all acceptees special poster maps showing parks, pubs, theaters and other cultural locations in Jerusalem, as well as a booklet on finding housing. The candidates are being invited to come to the city during the summer and take part in the many events taking place and are being sent coupons for various events.
The first step is to get the students here. The next step is to keep them in Jerusalem after graduation. Some 70% of Jerusalem's academic graduates leave the city after completing their studies - mainly due to lack of suitable employment opportunities and affordable housing. To help counteract this, the academic city program has teamed up with Ruach Chadasha (New Spirit, a non-profit organization that acts to strengthen ties between students and other young adults and the city of Jerusalem) for two projects - an internship and the young communities project.
"The idea of the internship is to give Jerusalem students valuable professional experience, help make essential business contacts and increase their chances of finding employment in the city after graduation," states Elisheva Mazya, CEO of Ruach Chadasha.
The program, which started five years ago with 12 liberal arts students at the Hebrew University, has expanded to 350 this past year in liberal arts and social sciences. More than 100 institutions offer internships, including government offices, the Knesset, the municipality, international organizations, financial institutions, businesses and more. A survey of the internship's nearly 1,000 graduates shows that 57% remain to live and work in the city after graduation. Next year, the internship program will be adding students from Hadassah College's biotech program.
Guy Ben-Shachar came to Jerusalem from the center of the country to study economics and business administration. He did a 10-month internship with MATI (the Jerusalem Business Development Center), working on feasibility studies and business plans for small businesses. "When I finished, I was offered a job with MATI as a business consultant," he relates. "The internship was an excellent way for me to gain experience, knowledge and the tools I needed to be a business consultant. When I graduated, I already had the contacts to find a job. The internship was an important factor in my staying in Jerusalem and continuing on for an MBA at the Hebrew University."
Omri Raviv came to Jerusalem three years ago from Kfar Saba to study history and international relations at the Hebrew University. "I had no plans for staying after graduation," he says. Raviv got an internship in the mayor's office dealing with constituent services. At the end of the internship, he was offered a full-time job there and took it. "The internship gave me a foot in the door and experience. Constituent services needed someone, and I already had the experience, so I got the job," he says.
The young communities project tries to link young people to Jerusalem by having them create student communities in various neighborhoods based on volunteering and serving the community. Some 120 students are currently living in seven neighborhoods (among them Kiryat Hayovel, Morasha, Katamonim, NeveH Ya'acov and East Talpiot). They have to commit to establish at least one form of informal educational framework (study center, extracurricular and enrichment workshops, etc.) in cooperation with local neighborhood leadership. The integration of highly educated and motivated students into some of Jerusalem's economically weaker areas serves not only to tie the students to the city but also to help the long-term development of these neighborhoods.
"People have to take responsibility for this city. We cannot just say to the government that Jerusalem needs money. We need to come to the government with a logical, organized plan for moving this city ahead. We need to get our academic institutions to think in terms of the city, and that is what we are trying to do here," concludes Solomon.