Britain’s ambassador to Israel has said it’s a “priority” to reverse a dramatic fall in the number of Israelis studying in the UK, as new figures revealed a 32 percent drop in recent years.
Jewish News can reveal that a total of 420 Israeli domiciled undergraduates and post-graduates were enrolled in courses during the 2015-16 academic year, compared to 620 in all years of study in 2007-08.
The figures from the Higher Education Statistics Authority show the biggest fall has taken place since 2010-11 when there were still 595 students. Among first year students, the numbers dropped from 260 to 200 over that eight-year period.
The pattern emerged amid concern about anti-Israel protests on campus and cases of Israeli speakers being prevented from speaking. UK Ambassador David Quarrey acknowledged that some Israelis are “probably deterred” from coming to the UK to study by much-publicised incidents.
But he said: “Overwhelmingly, the message I hear from Israeli students who’ve come here is they’ve had a positive experience. So I’ve said to them they must be ambassadors for British higher education when they go back. The ties they forge here will be part of the tissue of relationship between the two countries in the future.
“We’re working hard to get numbers back up. I would like to see an even bigger flow in both directions – more British students going to Israel as well as more Israelis coming here.”
StandWithUs UK’s Tamir Oren, who is currently an MBA student at Imperial College, said prospective students approached him with questions about safety and the general atmosphere on campus in the wake of much-publicised incidents at King’s College and UCL.
But he suggested greater factors in the falling numbers could be that American universities promote themselves better to Israelis and a lack of awareness about the advantages the UK can offer including the high standards combined with geographical proximity and the relative strength of the shekel. He added: “Brexit is an opportunity for Israelis to study in the UK due to the currency situation and the hoped-for boost in economic relations between the countries.”
The number of postgraduates enrolled in 2009-10 is recorded as the same number of undergraduates and postgraduates combined last year, the most recent data available. The numbers have consistently fallen almost every year since 410 postgraduates and 180 undergraduates enrolled in 2010-11.
A UJS statement said: “Cooperation and coordination between British and Israeli institutions is thriving, as demonstrated by the upcoming Universities UK trip to Israel with a number of vice chancellors. The gradual decrease in Israelis studying in the UK since 2007/08 can be attributed to a number of factors, but it is sad that this decrease corresponds with the rise in BDS and anti-Israel activity.
“Alongside the Jewish Agency, UJS were proud to host February’s Israeli Students’ Conference, where Israeli students were able to discuss the positive aspects of studying in the UK and the challenges they face. We will continue to support Israeli students in the UK to ensure they have a positive campus experience.”
Quarrey described it as an “important priority for me and for the British Council” to increase numbers again, saying he was encouraged by an event last year when 400 young Israelis came to his residence to learn more about studying in the UK. He also set his sights on increasing cooperation between universities in the countries, which he described as “science superpowers”.
Last week, according to research from the National Union of Students, nearly half of Jewish students do not feel confident giving views about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in class, although a vast majority were not concerned by anti-Semitism on campus.
Universities Minister Jo Johnson – who is due to travel to Israel next month with a delegation of vice-chancellors – wrote to higher education bosses ahead of Israeli Apartheid Week to remind them of their legal responsibilities to ensure Jewish students do not suffer “discrimination or harassment”.