Yeshiva students pray in a synagogue in the Sydney suburb of Bondi.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Council for Higher Education (CHE) and its Planning and Budgeting Committee (PBC) have decided to shut down the Haredi College in Jerusalem, established by Adina Bar-Shalom, daughter of the late chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.
According to the CHE, the decision to shut down the institution was due to budgetary deficits and a lack of enrollment among ultra-Orthodox students in the college, which it said decreased by some 50%.
The Haredi College will continue to operate for the duration of this academic year, but will cease to receive funds from the PBC beginning the next academic year.
“CHE’s decision is a slap in the face to haredi [ultra-Orthodox] society and to Israeli society, I refuse to accept the decision,” Bar-Shalom told Channel 10 News on Wednesday night.
“Unfortunately the CHE is not educated to understand the haredi public,” she said.
Bar-Shalom is one of the pioneers of advancing higher education within the ultra-Orthodox sector and in 2014 was awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement for her work.
She founded the college in 2001, with the intent to meet the educational and religious needs of haredi men and women looking to acquire academic qualifications.
She encountered significant opposition to the idea of promoting academic studies within haredi society during the 1990s, but she insisted that ultra-Orthodox values could be preserved while acquiring a higher education and integrating into the work force.
The Haredi College opened in March 2001 and its first graduates were 45 women who obtained degrees in social work in October 2003.
Since then, numerous academic bachelor’s degree courses have opened at the college, including psychology, computer science, political science and media studies.
Master’s degrees are also offered.
The degrees are offered by external academic institutes, such as Bar-Ilan University and others, but are taught under the auspices of the college.
The Council for Higher Education has in recent years made the integration of ultra-Orthodox into higher education a priority.
As part of the CHE’s new multi-year plan, announced in September, it will allocate some NIS 500 million toward the integration of haredi Jews into academia.
In April, an external study which examined the previous multi-year plan, from 2011-2016, with regard to the haredi population, found that there was a steady increase in participation of the number of ultra-Orthodox students in higher education, reaching 11,000 in the 2015/16 academic year. The study also found an increase the number of programs for haredi citizens from 62 to 110 over the five-year period.
However, the same study estimated that 70% of ultra-Orthodox students would not attend higher education frameworks that were not separate by gender.
At the same time, the report found that 30% of haredi students would be interested in integrating onto university campuses.
The CHE issued a response to the media and said: “Despite a series of recovery efforts for the college in recent years, its condition continues to deteriorate, the number of students decreased by half and the college has a NIS 5.5 million deficit. The decision was made at the request of representatives of the college.”Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.