As some 300,000 students prepare for their first day of academic studies next Sunday, higher education is proving not only out of reach for a significant portion of the population but also financially crushing for students.
Student debt and low wages are not only adding to their financial burdens but also interfering in their academic pursuits.
Over the course of the academic year, the average student accrues an annual debt of NIS 15,000, according to a survey released Tuesday by the National Student Union that analyzed students’ earnings and spending.
For the eighth year in a row, the annual survey shows a steady trend of high student employment, low monthly earnings and high expenditures.
The average student monthly expenses adds up to NIS 5,039, while the average student income is NIS 3,824, resulting in a monthly spending gap of NIS 1,215, most of which is spent on the student’s monthly rent.
Forty-nine percent of the students surveyed were spending an average of NIS 1,273 on rent, while 33% lived with their parents or a close relative, 9% owned their homes, 7% rely on student housing and 2% did not answer.
The survey shows that 81% of students are employed during their studies, earning on average NIS 3,824, while 37% earn less than NIS 2,000 per month.
Significant differences in earnings can be seen based on the students’ studies: Students studying law, management/business administration and computer sciences enjoy the highest monthly salaries while studying (NIS 5,692, NIS 5,390 and NIS 4,537, respectively), whereas the lowest monthly earners were found among biotechnology, medicine/dentistry and art students (NIS 1,869, NIS 2,411, NIS 2,483, respectively).
Alarmed at these results, Ram Shefa, chairman of the National Student Union, said: “It is impossible to get used to the absurd reality of having financial support from home or a scholarship determine how, or even if, it is possible to complete one’s studies. We need to stop accepting the economic survival mode they [students] are forced into during their studies. The current situation does not bode well for future accessibility to higher education. Young people who come to academia must devote their time toward studying, research and deepening their skills, but this cannot be possible when they are forced to juggle between their work shifts and their studies.”
The survey, which examined some 8,000 working students throughout the country and measured their average monthly income versus their expenses, was conducted by Maagar Mochot.
Another disturbing statistic shows that 41% of parents are unable to afford higher education for their children – a 9% increase from last year.
A survey conducted by the Israel Scholarship Education Fund (ISEF) among a representative sample of 500 Jewish-Israeli adults throughout the country also shows that the lower the socioeconomic level of the respondents, the lower their confidence in their ability to finance their academic pursuits.
Fifty-four percent of high school graduates responded that they were unable to afford college tuition. Out of that percentage, those whose income fell below the national average, 64.5%, said higher education was beyond their means in comparison to the 24.9% of those earning more than the national average.
“In an era where it is clear to all of us that higher education is the key to professional progress and improving one’s socioeconomic status, it is very unfortunate to see that one-third of Israelis think they will not be able to finance higher education for their children,” said Tomer Samarkandi, executive director of ISEF.
Echoing Shefa’s concerns, Samarkandi understands the economic stress placed on families with children enrolled in higher education institutions: “Based on our experience and familiarity with this subject, the reality is much worse, resources placed in the hands of lower- and middle-class families are directed at the most basic of needs, without anything left to invest in their children’s future, and college tuition is just the tip of the iceberg. Another huge challenge facing these students is how they will survive economically during their studies.”
Another group of students feeling the economic strain of higher education is single mothers. Among students who are single mothers, 58% who are employed report difficulties in juggling work and study and are more likely to consider dropping out of college, according to a survey released by the Rashi Foundation.
Results also show 70% of all single mothers enrolled in higher education are employed, while 11% are actively searching for work.
Seventy percent of students who are working mothers earn an average monthly salary of NIS 2,400.
The survey compiled data on 355 single mothers currently enrolled in higher learning institutions who are recipients of Katzir scholarships (scholarships provided by the Rashi Foundation).
The average age of these students is 35, and about 80% live north of Haifa or south of Ashkelon, while the rest are located in the Center.