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Israeli Universities Enjoy New Interest As Coronavirus Changes Equation

Major Israeli universities are enjoying soaring interest from aspiring students ahead of the 2020/21 academic year, as admissions departments record a significant increase in registrations from Israeli and international applicants alike.

While the true increase will only become clear once the academic year begins in October, universities attribute the significant increase in applications to a range of factors linked to the coronavirus pandemic.

Hebrew University of Jerusalem admissions teams told The Jerusalem Post that they have recorded an increase of over 20% in registrations from domestic students, while applications for some international courses have increased by 45%.

According to Ofra Ash, head of Online Registration and Marketing & Communications Divisions at Hebrew University, the increase in applications from domestic students is likely explained by the combination of young Israelis canceling their post-army backpacking trip due to restrictions on travel, the lack of available jobs, departments waiving the need for a psychometric exam, and the strong performance of universities.

“There is a lot of instability, and uncertainty regarding the economy,” Ash told the Post. “For soldiers scheduled to be released from the army in July and August, it is clear that their large trip will not happen, and it is not clear what the status of the workforce will be. They are deciding to go to study instead. Some will choose to learn close to home, so that costs will be lower.”

Another trend, Ash said, is the “strengthening of the universities across-the-board” with significant marketing activities leading to a greater understanding of “the difference in the academic standard between universities and colleges.”

Many prospective students might still opt to travel abroad should international travel take off again prior to the academic year, Ash cautioned, while others might seek to remain in the army for longer too, where a stable income is guaranteed. To what extent increased applications will turn into diligent students and library-goers remains unclear, but Ash is still certain that lecture halls will be fuller than usual.

An increase is also expected in many international, English-language programs, with the Hebrew University holding its first-ever online open day next week to attract prospective students from abroad. For some one-year Master’s programs, registration has increased by about 45%.

“Israel is probably considered to be a safe country when it comes to coronavirus, so that gives some confidence to students that they will feel more safe here,” said Oron Shagrir, Hebrew University vice president for international affairs.

“Our academic year also starts later than in Europe and the United States, so there might be a bit more optimism about beginning studies here. This year, 80% of our international students decided to stay in Israel during the outbreak – we treated them well and received some good responses.”

Shagrir also stated that the number of students starting in October is likely to “be very different,” with possible quarantine restrictions or limits on air travel representing two factors that could significantly impact the arrival of international students in Israel.

At Beersheba’s Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, applications and acceptance have increased by over 35%. While interest has peaked in all courses, including humanities, university authorities warn that it is still too early to see the whole picture.

Chief marketing officer Sagi Langer does not necessarily attribute increased interest to Israelis giving up on their backpacking plans, but rather that aspiring students increasingly prefer to study at high-level research universities.

“Increased interest is due in part to actions taken by universities at the beginning of the [coronavirus] crisis to meeting the special challenges – especially in teaching and learning, through student funding, assistance and flexibility with payments and, of course, opening alternative admissions tailored to the situation where there is no psychometric exam in April,” Langer said.

“But we still need to look at this realistically. There is still a large amount of uncertainty in the market – regarding the labor market and the economy as a whole, about future and challenging methods of learning, and about the state of public health.”

While the challenges could have an impact for some time, Langer emphasizes that universities must find solutions to ensure continuity in research and teaching, and to continue building a future generation of academics and professionals.

Tel Aviv University admissions teams have also been pleasantly surprised by a 30% jump in applications, with notable increases identified in both applied and theoretical fields of study. Increased interest ranges from 50% in mathematics to 20% in humanities degrees.

The university primarily attributes high interest to the waiving of psychometric examination requirements, and relying on bagrut (matriculation exam) results instead for many courses.

Soaring submissions have led the university to already close applications to eight degree programs, including medicine, dentistry, architecture, law and psychology.

“The sharp increase in enrollment figures indicates that young people perceive academic studies as the best route for professional and personal development,” said Tel Aviv University rector Prof. Yaron Oz.

By Eytan Halon – The Jerusalem Post