Education Ministry plan aims to give Haredim workforce skills
The proportion of ultra-Orthodox adults who do not work has been climbing for decades, but before they can join the workforce, they have to have skills employers want. Guided by Education Minister Gideon Saar, the Council for Higher Education has formulated a plan to get thousands of Haredim to acquire higher education, in order to improve their employability. Saar will shortly be presenting the Knesset with a five-year plan for the whole higher education system. The program for Haredim is one section.
It is the first time that any long-term program for higher education has been formulated. The plan was authored by the Planning and Budget committee of the Council for Higher Education, headed by Manuel Trajtenberg.
In the last school year, only 1,963 Haredim were enrolled in academic institutions. Of them, 79% were women. Another 202 studied in mechinot, college preparatory programs. Of this figure, 61% were men.
While the numbers of Haredim seeking higher education has been on the rise, they still comprise only about 1% of the 220,000-strong student body.
The lack of higher education among Haredim is a key reason for their low workforce participation. The Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel recently reported that non-employment (unwillingness to work, not unemployment) among Haredim has increased more than threefold in 30 years, rendering the ultra-Orthodox community more dependent on welfare.
The first stage of the plan targeting the ultra-Orthodox sector − which the committee formulated with officials from the Finance Ministry − aims to get another 3,000 Haredi students in college, and 750 in pre-academic study programs (mechinot) over five years.
At a later stage, a similar program is envisioned for Israeli Arabs.
The institutions in question are not the “secular” universities, however. The idea is based on greatly expanding enrollment in institutes of higher education that cater to the Haredi community, including Michlelet Bnei Brak Haharedit (the Haredi Bnei Brak College − Mivhar), Hamichlala Haharedit B’Yerushalayim (the Haredi College in Jerusalem), a technological college in Jerusalem, and others that − like the above − teach a profession.
Expanding enrollment in these institutions as the reform envisions will require giving these schools bigger budgets. Also, money must be found to offer scholarships to eligible students.
Another facet of the plan is to motivate institutions to join the program by offering financial incentives.
As the motive behind the plan is to add Haredim to the workforce, support will be provided for study programs that prepare students for professions. Subjects already taught at the Haredi higher-education institutions include social work, speech therapy, guidance counseling, educational administration, medical laboratory work and nursing care.
A 2006 study by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies found that 60% of respondents in the Haredi community wanted to acquire higher education, and 25% were even prepared to study at an institution not confined to ultra-Orthodox pupils. However, the JIIS found that Haredi students faced specific obstacles, one being that they tend to be married with children, and another being that they couldn’t afford the tuition.
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