Israeli academia – ‘It’s the economy, stupid!’

Israel’s future is wholly dependent on its human capital, and it is the nation’s universities and colleges that are responsible to build this precious resource, one student at a time.

Hadassah College campus 370 (photo credit: Yagil Tzebaoni)
Hadassah College campus 370
(photo credit: Yagil Tzebaoni)
In 1992, Bill Clinton captured the attention of the American voter by focusing his message on the then-prevailing recession in the US economy. “The economy, stupid,” spoke to millions of American voters, and Clinton succeeded in unseating incumbent George H.W. Bush.
The new academic year will begin this week. The total number of students entering academic studies will again remain stable, reflecting a trend seen for the past couple of years. Where students apply for studies is increasingly related to the skill-set offered by the teaching institution, reflecting students’ desire to secure employment following graduation.
High youth unemployment is a global time bomb, and economists and politicians alike understand that large youth unemployment threatens the future of individuals and the broader economy and society.
Everywhere in the western world, the pursuit of higher education is today directly linked to job opportunities, and only those disciplines that have a future in terms of working opportunities are the ones that will attract and grow.
Israel’s growth and development are intimately linked to its capacity to generate and educate a welltrained workforce that can keep the country at the forefront of technology and progress. Hadassah Academic College, as a career-focused institution of higher learning, has long realized that the mission of higher learning institutions is not only to educate but also to prepare and help our young people to find rewarding employment upon graduation.
For this purpose we recently created a Career Center that assists our students from the very first day they arrive to our college until they find a proper job that satisfies their own objectives. We have also created an Alumni Association that through the connection with our thousands of graduates can help the fresh graduates find jobs. This is a model that can be implemented at other Israeli academic institutions.
We also believe that the mission of academic institutions does not end the day graduates receive their degree. On the contrary, we know that the graduates’ success is the success of their alma matter, and that their inclusion into the workforce will bring new generations of students striving for success.
A new report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development indicates that socioeconomic status continues to be a barrier to developing a skilled workforce. Socioeconomically disadvantaged youth are more likely than their middle-class, better-educated peers to be unemployed, so that more must be done to deliberately target these groups.
Academic institutions must do everything possible to give young people the skills and education that will open the doors for success and advancement. We know that there are significant groups in Israeli society that have the capabilities to learn a profession but do not have the opportunities or the full knowledge of how to go about it.
Academic institutions’ experience from the work to date with social groups such as the Israeli Arabs and ultra-Orthodox shows that the first challenge is to convince the youth that a college education and training toward a marketable profession will promise them, their families, and their community a better future.
This is a “truism” that is common among the stronger groups in society, but not among the weaker populations. This includes and involves filling any academic gaps that exist in their education, followed by strong counseling support for each student once he/she enters the system plus financial assistance in most cases.
The outcomes in accomplishing such a mission go well beyond just providing a profession. The participation of all our mosaic of cultures in mainstream higher education colleges and universities creates an environment of dialogue, building bridges of tolerance between different cultural groups and ensuring a more pluralist and fair society.
All this needs to be done without compromising the academic level we provide to all of our students.
Israel’s future is wholly dependent on its human capital, and it is the nation’s universities and colleges that are responsible to build this precious resource, one student at a time. We see this academic year as a turning point that could signal a new trend and attract many more talented and motivated young people from all parts of Israeli society into the centers of higher education.
The rising number of students choosing to pursue their degree at the nation’s academic colleges is testimony to the vital importance of these institutions in preparing the kind of skilled labor force that Israel needs to meet future challenges and remain competitive in today’s world.
Bill Clinton’s campaign managers recommended a second theme for his 1992 presidential campaign.
The slogan read “Change vs more of the same.” Israeli academia would be well advised to adopt this slogan as its own.The author is president of Hadassah Academic College.