Plan approved for ultra-Orthodox integration into academia

Education Minister Naftali Bennett said that integration of ultra-Orthodox students into Israeli academia contributes to society as a whole.

ULTRA-ORTHODOX STUDENTS study at Jerusalem’s Mir Yeshiva. (photo credit: REUTERS)
ULTRA-ORTHODOX STUDENTS study at Jerusalem’s Mir Yeshiva.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Council for Higher Education approved the continuation this week of a fiveyear plan for the integration of ultra-Orthodox into the higher education system.
The new multiyear plan aims to continue the trend of the increasing number of ultra-Orthodox students enrolling in higher education by 2022, as well as continue the implementation of gender- segregated programs in institutions of higher education.
“In recent years, more and more ultra-Orthodox students are turning to higher education, with the help of which they acquire a profession and integrate into the labor market,” Education Minister Naftali Bennett said.
“The Council for Higher Education is opening its gates to the ultra-Orthodox public and places the integration of the ultra-Orthodox society into Israeli academia as one of its goals for the coming years,” he said, adding that their integration contributes not only to the ultra-Orthodox public, but “mainly to the state as a whole.”
The new plan seeks to increase the number of ultra-Orthodox students from some 11,000 in 2016 to 19,000 students in 2022, while simultaneously emphasizing “academic quality and the expansion of academic programs.”
According to the council, the plan was approved in light of the success of the previous five-year plan (2011- 16), which saw the number of ultra-Orthodox students in higher education rise from only 5,500 in 2011 to 11,500 in 2016 – an increase of 83%.
The former multiyear plan also saw an increase of 80% in the number of academic programs established for ultra-Orthodox students operating to date in 19 academic institutions, including in three universities.
The council noted that the new multi-year plan was formulated based on data from multiple research studies on the ultra-Orthodox population as well as a survey of some 1,000 ultra-Orthodox on their perceptions toward academic learning. Furthermore, the council noted that a four-month-long public hearing preceded the approval of the program.
As such, the council said the ultra-Orthodox population in Israel is characterized, among other things, by “significant knowledge gaps compared to the general population, which impede entrance to academic studies.”
These gaps are mainly the result of a lack of core curriculum studies, which the council said was a central justification for the establishment of special academic frameworks adapted to address these gaps.
Regarding gender segregation, the council acknowledged that the practice raises concerns about discrimination, both in terms of the professions open to both sexes and with regards to the level of studies in academic institutions.
However, the council said it has concluded that “the integration of ultra-Orthodox into higher education justifies these unique frameworks due to the pedagogical and cultural gap.”
According to data from research studies, the council emphasized that without establishing gender segregated frameworks, 70% to 80% of the ultra-Orthodox population would not seek higher education studies.
However, the council stressed that “gender segregation takes place only to minimum required, while ensuring basic values in the field of equality, safeguarding academic freedom and preventing discrimination.”
As part of the new plan, the council has also decided to expand its definition of “what constitutes and ultra-Orthodox student” to include not only high school students in the ultra-Orthodox education system, as was the case to date, but also grant institutions “administrative flexibility of up to 10%” of students who are religious but do not fall under this category.
Prof. Yaffa Zilbershatz, head of the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the council, said the plan will enable the ultra-Orthodox community to “reach the gates of academia and acquire knowledge and a profession like all other citizens of the State of Israel.”
She added that all academic institutions have committed to achieving “this important national mission.”