Abigail Klein Leichman
January 14

A consortium of academic colleges led by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev won a government tender to create a separate ultra-Orthodox (haredi) higher education campus in the South, set to open for the 2024/25 school year.

The project addresses an urgent economic need.

According to an Israel Democracy Institute report, Israel’s haredi population constitutes 13.3% of the total population and 44% of haredi families are impoverished. As of 2019, only 51% of ultra-Orthodox men and 78% of ultra-Orthodox women were employed.

Men are encouraged to study Talmud full time after high school, while most women attend post-high school seminaries that award certificates qualifying them for relatively low-paying jobs in fields such as childcare and computer programming.

Boys and girls attend separate schools and have different curriculums. Haredi men who want to work to support their families are limited by their lack of secular education and military experience.

According to the State Comptroller’s Report for 2020, 84% of boys in haredi high schools did not study English, math or science. In haredi elementary schools, 56% of the boys studied these subjects but not to a great extent.

Most haredi girls do learn these secular subjects but few seek higher education that would qualify them for higher-paying jobs, in part because haredim will not attend coeducational classes.

While several colleges and universities have established gender-segregated programs to accommodate ultra-Orthodox male and female students, usually off-campus, few options exist in southern Israel where an estimated 30% of the haredi population resides.

This is the backstory to the plan by the consortium — Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Sami Shamoon College of Engineering, Sapir Academic College, Kaye College of Education, Hemdat Academic College, and Ashkelon Academic College — to offer independent degrees at a separate location to be determined.

Students will be able to pursue degrees in nursing, accounting, applied economics and management, technological marketing, education (including a teaching certificate), special education, industrial engineering and management, visual communications, software engineering, Talmud studies, computer science and social work.

Ben-Gurion University will offer pre-academic programs to help those who do not meet admissions requirements.

College consortium plans campus for ultra-Orthodox Israelis
Ben-Gurion University’s Marcus Family Campus. Photo by Irina Opachevsky via Shutterstock.com

The plan is to open the degree programs to women first and offer pre-academic programs to men to help them meet the acceptance thresholds.

“Ben-Gurion University of the Negev has offered underserved populations access to higher education since its founding and we are eager to extend the same opportunities to the haredi community,” BGU President Prof. Daniel Chamovitz said.

“Creating a haredi campus will not only contribute to the haredi communities who are thirsting for academia but will also contribute significantly to society at large.”

College consortium plans campus for ultra-Orthodox Israelis
Prof. Haim Shaked, president of Hemdat Academic College and the College of Education in Sdot Negev. Photo by Avi Hayoon

Prof. Haim Shaked, president of Hemdat Academic College and the College of Education in Sdot Negev, and chairman of the Forum of Presidents of Colleges of Education, said the integration of haredim in higher education is vital for Israeli society, its economy and its future.

“To this end, frameworks must be established that will enable men and women from the haredi sector to study higher education at an appropriate academic level and in accordance with their lifestyle.”

Kaye Academic College of Education President Prof. Arye Rattner said, “As a college that has made it its mission to promote a pedagogy of diversity, justice and inclusion, and implements these principles on a daily basis in academic studies and teacher training processes, I am happy to be a partner in the project of establishing a campus for haredi society, which is a clear expression of these values.”

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