Universities to begin academic year on December 31

Announcement comes after several delays from original October 15 start date; some students still expected to be in reserve duty when classes begin

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

Illustrative photo of the Tel Aviv University campus. (Andrew Tobin/JTA)
Illustrative photo of the Tel Aviv University campus. (Andrew Tobin/JTA)

Israel’s universities will start the delayed academic year on December 31, it was announced Sunday. Due to the ongoing Israel-Hamas war and the large number of university students, faculty and staff who have been serving in the IDF reserves, the official opening has been pushed back several times from the original start date of October 15.

“In the coming weeks, all the universities will finalize arrangements for the academic year’s commencement, orientation days, and organizational preparations… a detailed notice regarding the opening procedures for various institutions will be sent to the student communities at each university during the coming week,” the Association of University Heads said in a statement.

Included in the announcement are all of Israel’s major public research universities, including the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Bar-Ilan University, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Tel Aviv University, the University of Haifa, Ariel University, and the Weizmann Institute of Science.

The Technion will begin its semester separately, on January 7, 2024.

The decision to officially begin the academic year was made in conjunction with IDF administration. As it seems likely that some students will still be in reserve duty while the semester begins, a “diverse basket” of aid, along with “individual solutions,” will be implemented to enable student-soldiers to complete their studies, the university heads said.

“We would like to repeat once again our commitment to the entire student community, and to the men and women of the faculty who have been recruited, to do everything we can so that no one is left behind,” they said in their statement.

Since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7, and the subsequent massive call-up of IDF reserve forces, the start of the academic year for universities has been delayed several times.

As the war continued, all the universities announced various aid packages for students serving in the reserve forces. Details have varied from university to university but most have included direct cash grants, delayed payments on student housing and tuition, and other benefits.

The previous update had the academic year beginning on December 24, contingent on enough reserve soldiers being released from duty. An estimated 30% of all Israeli university students and thousands of faculty and staff are currently serving.

No major announcement has been made by the IDF in regards to releasing reserve soldiers, and in recent days top officials have indicated that the war against Hamas is likely to continue for several months and possibly expand into operations against Hezbollah in the north.

This week the universities are to send individual details about the academic year to their student bodies and staff, along with expanded aid packages for returning student-soldiers. Several universities, including Ariel University and Bar-Ilan University, have announced a plan to give academic credit for the time their students have spent in reserve duty.

On Sunday both Ben-Gurion University and the Hebrew University announced that the new academic year would consist of two shortened semesters of 11 weeks each, with classes being recorded for students still in the reserves, pass/fail options, and other changes.

“While we would prefer to begin the academic year together with all BGU students and faculty members, further delays to the start date are not an option. Any further delays in the opening of the academic year will adversely affect both the student community and the economy… We will make every effort to alleviate the impact this will have on members of the university community who are currently serving in reserve duty, protecting us and enabling us to resume our routine of studies and research,” Ben-Gurion University said in a statement.

Hebrew University is committed that “no student will be left behind. Even if we commence the year separately, our goal remains to conclude it together, ensuring support for all affected individuals,” the university said in a statement to The Times of Israel.

“To address the current situation, our curriculum will undergo adaptations, streamlining course content and adjusting assessments to accommodate these circumstances. Furthermore, classes will be recorded, guaranteeing accessibility to all students within days of the live session,” the university said.

Several of the international schools, such as the Rothberg International School of the Hebrew University, which teach in English and have a student body of foreign students, have already begun their semesters.

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