Enrollment is surging in Haredi academic programs designed to ease integration into the Israeli workplace. But the dropout rate is huge. This was one of the revelations at the recent conference sponsored by BIU’s Haredi campus that drew some 100 Haredi social activists, reps of academic and business institutions, Knesset members and media figures to gauge the status of Haredi integration into education and the workforce.
Since 2011, the number of Haredi academic students doubled, from 6,000 to 12,000 in 2015. However, 75% of Haredi students, including participants in pre-academic preparatory programs, drop out before graduation. That, according to one of the conference speakers, Ravid Omasi, who manages an umbrella organization representing Haredi academic programs.
During the conference, MK Manuel Trajtenberg (Zionist Union), who heads a lobby for equal opportunity for the Haredi sector, said: “We must open up education and employment for all those young Haredi men and women who are genuinely interested in integrating into the public and business sectors.” The noted Israeli economist and former chairman of the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Israel Council for Higher Education also raised the issue of anti-Haredi discrimination. “Let’s be honest about it: there is discrimination against Haredi workers in employment, and it’s something we have to fight against.”
The atmosphere heated up during the central panel discussion on conflicts in absorbing Haredim in the workforce. Haredi activists called out to the MK Yacov Margi, chairman of the Knesset Education Committee, “You are to blame for the lack of core studies in Haredi schools, and because of that there’s a high dropout rate of Haredi students in academic programs.
Notwithstanding the challenges, more Haredi students are pursuing academic degrees than ever before. BIU is taking an active role in promoting Haredi higher education. The goal, says Prof. Shmuel Sandler, head of BIU’s Colleges and Preparatory Programs Administration, is “to enable Haredi society to integrate in academia without changing their lifestyle, in order to reach all possible areas of knowledge.” And that in turn will hopefully facilitate their integration into the modern economy.
Toward that end, BIU has established the academic Machar Center on campus under the auspices of the Colleges and Preparatory Programs Administration with the objective of enabling Haredi students to study in a high-level academic framework suited to their unique lifestyle. It offers them a dedicated, gender-segregated pre-academic preparatory program to help them bridge the gap between their formal education and university requirements. Some 100 students are currently enrolled, with men pursuing a BA in economics, and women, a BA in psychology. All Haredi students are assigned counselors to help them along the way, and they also receive academic guidance by faculty members … and that should hopefully help them pursue their degrees.