Staying put?

The municipality and NGOs are working to encourage graduates to stay in the city.

The ‘Young Communities Project’ at work in Kiryat Menahem. (photo credit: NEW SPIRIT)
The ‘Young Communities Project’ at work in Kiryat Menahem.
(photo credit: NEW SPIRIT)
Over the years, Jerusalem has become an attractive destination for young people in search of higher education. With prestigious institutions such as the Hebrew University, the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, and David Yellin College, among others, the capital offers a variety of academic opportunities.
But while a large number of people – more than 38,000 in the 2012-13 academic school year – flock to the city to study, many do not stay after finishing their degrees. This drain of young potential residents has become a worrying trend to those seeking to brand Jerusalem as an attractive place for young people to set up homes.
Recent years have seen efforts to try and keep students in Jerusalem after they finish their studies, with several organizations reporting some success in fighting the problems that prevent graduates from settling in the capital.
One of these problems is employment. Many graduates lament that work opportunities in the city fall behind those in other places. In an effort to combat this issue, the Jerusalem Municipality’s Employment Authority has set up an employment center that aims to provide information and tools to help students and graduates find relevant work.
The center supplies free personal guidance and helps young people contact employers in the city. It also serves as a platform for employers to search for workers.
In addition, the center organizes “career days” at the Hebrew University and helps set up work fairs, recruitment campaigns and an annual employment and entrepreneurship conference. In 2013, the center located and advertised 3,574 jobs designated for students and graduates, the municipality says.
According to city councilman Hanan Rubin (Hitorerut B’yerushalayim), who holds the portfolio dealing with youth, students and young families, “even though a respectable and high-quality number of computer science, design and humanities students study in the capital, a very small [portion] decides to live in it after graduating.”
The municipality is working in a number of arenas to combat this phenomenon, he says, adding that the municipality “emphasizes quality and creative employment, and cooperates with the Jerusalem Development Authority to encourage technological entrepreneurship and the creation of incubators and accelerators. In the public and third sectors, we are working to create partnerships and internships to incorporate the students in a number of roles already while they are studying for their degree.”
Shachar Zinman, head of Hitorerut B’yerushalayim’s student movement, also believes that employment is a key issue in keeping young people in Jerusalem.
“With the understanding that without future employment, young people and students will not stay in the city, even if during their studies they developed a feeling of belonging and an affinity to the city, the student department of Hitorerut B’yerushalayim works to make benefits and opportunities offered in the city accessible through conferences, publications, specialized courses and personal guidance,” he says.
Housing is also an issue that deters graduates from staying in the capital. Prices in attractive neighborhoods continue to soar, leaving many young people in search of a reasonably priced home.
This has not escaped the notice of those trying to find solutions to enable young people to continue residing in the city.
“We are working with the government and planning authorities to work out affordable housing and long-term rentals, as well as with various buying groups, to try and relieve, if only just a little, the cost of living in the city,” says Rubin.
BUT EMPLOYMENT and housing aren’t the only issues facing graduates. According to Elisheva Mazya, the CEO of New Spirit (Ruah Hadasha) – an organization founded in 2003 to keep young academics in the capital after their studies – a major problem is the city’s attractiveness to young people.
Her organization seeks to increase that attractiveness by strengthening the young human capital in Jerusalem. Involving young people in their surroundings and getting students to engage in communal development is, the organization believes, the way to boost the participants’ impact on, and therefore affinity for, the city.
Alongside an internship project that strives to enable students – especially in creative fields such as film and media – to gain experience, New Spirit leads the Young Communities Project, which integrates young adults into the capital’s peripheral neighborhoods.
The project, which it runs together with the Academic City initiative, funds young student communities that live in less-developed neighborhoods such as Nahlaot, the Katamonim and Kiryat Menahem. In turn, these communities volunteer in the area through social programs and help shape their neighborhoods’ character.
It seems that the combination of a tight-knit community and social development has the desired effect of making the project’s participants become attached to the place they have helped to flourish: According to Mazya, more than 80 percent of those involved in the project stay in Jerusalem for at least a few years after completing it.
The organizers of Academic City share this view. That venture – which the Jerusalem Development Authority and the Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs Ministry founded in 2008 and which works together with the municipality – aims to attract students to the capital and encourage them to stay in the city afterward.
In the past, says Academic City project manager Moshe Kaptowski, it was important to create communities in the city – groups with strong personal connections that would lead students to stay because of their friends. Nowadays, however, people have realized that this is not enough, and that young people need to feel they can shape the city and make an impact on it in order to stay.
“There is a need to deal with the city’s attractiveness to students,” he says, adding that Jerusalem is a great place for students and that it offers a similar quality of life to other cities.” The student experience in the capital has improved greatly in recent years, he says, and that experience needs to be passed on.
Aside from taking part in programs like the Young Communities Project, Academic City works to strengthen academic institutions in Jerusalem. It also provides information about academic programs and benefits for which students in the city could be eligible.
The organizations and authorities working to keep the post-college crowd in the capital are positive that their continued efforts are paying off. Will the capital ever become a thriving city that can rival other attractive locations in the country? Will it be able to maintain a young, productive and pluralistic population? In the opinion of those combating the capital’s less-than-alluring reputation, the answer seems to be a resounding “yes.”