A program geared toward integrating the ultra-Orthodox into Israeli universities has been set into motion and will increase the number of Haredi academics 50 percent over the next three years, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced on Sunday.
Addressing the weekly cabinet meeting, Sa’ar described the initiative, according to which 12 academic frameworks specifically adapted to the ultra-Orthodox community will operate throughout the country. These academic centers, Sa’ar said, would provide a setting in which students could study subjects including art, electrical engineering, architecture, computer science, and electronics, while enjoying an environment that was sensitive to their religious needs.
Recent years have seen clamorous demands from Israel’s secular and national Orthodox for the ultra-Orthodox to join the military and work force en masse, contributing taxes and fulfilling the same obligations as other Israeli citizens.
However, because a relatively small percentage of the ultra-Orthodox receive a university education, generally opting for religious studies in yeshiva instead, those who to do try to enter the work force often face disadvantages. The gaps in knowledge required for various jobs, as well sometimes-incompatible study habits and -prejudiced employers, have proven a substantial barrier in a difficult economy and a competitive job market.
Sa’ar initiative would double the number of ultra-Orthodox students in higher educational institutions by 2016, Sa’ar said; up from 6,000 in the 2011-12 academic year. The program has already expanded the number to 7,200 — a 20% increase since last year — for the 2012-13 academic year, which is slated to begin next week. The projected cost of the program is NIS 180 million.
“Excellence and accessibility are the primary anchors of this program,” Sa’ar told the cabinet. “Integrating the ultra-Orthodox into the higher education system has great significance, from a social standpoint and in terms of the integration into the job market.”