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Why Israel is becoming the ultimate study abroad destination

With low costs, immersion in the Start-Up Nation and antisemitism spiking, it’s no wonder students are choosing the Jewish state.

Israeli students at the Hebrew University Mount Scopus after the administration reopened its campus for the March semester to students who have been vaccinated against or have recovered from the coronavirus, April 19, 2021. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Israeli students at the Hebrew University Mount Scopus after the administration reopened its campus for the March semester to students who have been vaccinated against or have recovered from the coronavirus, April 19, 2021. Photo by Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90.
Shlomo Anapolle
Shlomo Anapolle

There are many reasons why students choose to pack their bags and study in Israel. After all, there aren’t many destinations where you can get a world-class education in one of the most innovative countries in the world, while surrounded by history and basking in sunshine for (most of) the year.

This is why—according to the Israeli Council for Higher Education—approximately 12,000 foreign students each year choose to make Israel their home away from home. What’s more, in contrast to declining international student enrollment in other countries, the COVID-19 pandemic actually amplified interest in Israel as a study abroad destination.

American institutions of higher education are still reeling from the pandemic, during which most students were forced to study remotely, depriving them of the benefits of the in-person college experience like networking opportunities and a thriving social life.

International student enrollment rates around the world are reflecting this shift. According to Boundless, U.S. colleges and universities have experienced an 18% decrease from pre-pandemic numbers of active M-1 and F-1 students. In Australia, the number of international student visa holders plummeted 54% from Oct. 2019 to Oct. 2021. In Japan, international enrollment dropped 13.3% during the same two years. In Germany, the enrollment of occasional students—those who possess an undergraduate degree but take additional courses or conduct research for non-degree purposes in a specific country—decreased 26% from the winter semester of 2019-20 to the winter semester of 2021-22.

Yet in Israel, we see the opposite trend. For 20 years before the pandemic, only 5% of students coming to Israel for their gap year chose to stay in the country for further study. Now, that number has increased to 20%.

Why is Israel defying the global enrollment trend? First, more and more students and parents are realizing that it doesn’t make sense to pay for an expensive degree when all one gets out of the experience is a piece of paper. Instead, by coming to Israel, international students can broaden their horizons and venture outside their comfort zones, while obtaining an education at a fraction of the cost.

This mindset brings a number of international students to the Jerusalem College of Technology (JCT), where I am director of the International Program in English. In fact, enrollment in our program has increased to 190 students from 145 last year, and we’re anticipating 250 enrolling next year.

The socioeconomic face of Israel has also changed dramatically. We’re no longer a socialist country defined by the kibbutz—we’re the Start-Up Nation, characterized by homegrown high-tech businesses that make a global impact.

In fact, the tech market is insatiable. Yes, there are layoffs in the tech industry at the moment, but work is still easily found if you have the proper skill set. A cursory search on LinkedIn, FreshBoards and Indeed shows that companies are still hiring, but they’re looking for something specific.

Despite the layoffs, an OurCrowd report states that high-tech companies are looking for “R&D/Software hires, and have difficulty finding them, creating a strong job-seeker’s market.” This is encouraging news for graduates of JCT’s computer science program, which cultivates those skills.

Leading high-tech companies in Israel consistently inform us that JCT does a very good job of preparing its graduates for success in the field. When it comes to obtaining positions, our graduates understand that, in the tech world, a job interview is about much more than selling yourself. There are assignments and tests that must be passed in order to navigate the multiple steps required.

At the same time, a degree in computer science isn’t a necessity for finding success in the tech world. Last year, Israel saw 30,000 job openings in high-tech and business—a 200% increase from 2020. Meanwhile, 12,000 of those jobs were in non-high-tech roles and some were a perfect fit for graduates of our newly launched data analytics program.

Additionally, students can reap these benefits at JCT for a fraction of the cost. College tuition in the U.S. can run up to $70,000 a year, but a degree at JCT that costs under $4,000 annually has many students feeling that their enrollment decision is already made for them.

Lastly, although it may be uncomfortable to acknowledge as a motivation behind temporarily or permanently moving to Israel, antisemitism is surging worldwide—especially on American college campuses. According to the StopAntisemitism watchdog group, 55% of U.S. students report being a victim of campus antisemitism, 72% say university administrations fail to take antisemitism and personal safety seriously, 55% report needing to hide their support for Israel and 73% hide their Jewish identity on campus.

At JCT, we’re fostering an environment that not only embraces Judaism on campus but infuses it into our curriculum. We encourage students to learn Torah as well as science and math side-by-side, resulting in multifaceted, spiritual and ambitious graduates who are poised to amplify the innovation emanating from Israel.

Higher education is so much more than what you’ll find in textbooks. It’s an experience. In Israel, between exhilarating trips where one can see the results of over 2,000 years of history, to learning the latest in cutting-edge technology in one of the most innovative countries in the world, to being in the only country made by Jews and for Jews, it’s no surprise that studying here has become a popular choice.

Shlomo Anapolle is the director of the International Program in English at the Jerusalem College of Technology.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.

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