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Israeli initiative to assist Ukrainian refugee students

Israel has said it will help an estimated 1,500-2,000 Israeli students escaping the war in Ukraine to continue their studies in Israel, and also open up opportunities for displaced Ukrainian students and scholars.

The Israeli institutions are planning to welcome students for the spring semester, which lasts for four months. Photo: pexels

"It’s heartbreaking and unbelievable that in 2022, we have a crisis like this in Europe"

A number of institutions, including Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Tel Aviv University and Hebrew University, have joined an initiative hoping to assist students and academics.

BGU will offer eligible candidates places on courses or in research labs, with accommodation and scholarships also available. It has recently completed building a new dormitory complex, which is currently empty, meaning it can provide housing for students, and it has been raising funds to support those in financial need.

BGU president Daniel Chamovitz explained that it is not clear how many students and scholars will arrive at the campus in Beersheba.

“The war is almost two weeks old, the number of refugees is increasing every day, so we don’t actually have an idea at this point what the response is going to be,” he told The PIE. “We haven’t limited ourselves in the numbers. It could be in the tens. It could be in the hundreds.”

Tel Aviv University will also offer dozens of scholarships covering tuition and living expenses totalling some one million Israeli New Shekels (around US$300,000) to students and researchers for the upcoming semester.

“As a university that raises the banner of academic freedom, we place great importance on providing our Ukrainian colleagues with immediate assistance,” TAU said in a statement.

“We hope that other academic institutions, both in Israel and worldwide, will follow our example”

“The steps we are taking are admittedly modest,” TAU president Ariel Porat added. “However, we hope that other academic institutions, both in Israel and worldwide, will follow our example, and lend a helping hand to the Ukrainian people in this dire situation.”

Hebrew University in Jerusalem will also offer temporary academic posts to Ukrainian academics and graduate students, and has invited professors to continue their research at the HU for a period of up to four months. BGU is also planning for the spring semester, which lasts for four months, Chamovitz added.

Suitable academic candidates at HU will receive monthly stipends of up to US$2,800, as well as free room and board at on-campus residences, the institution added.

Ukrainian graduate masters and PhD students will also be able to continue their studies and research at HU for up to four months and will receive a monthly stipend of $2,000, plus free board at university dormitories. Bachelor’s student can attend HU’s Rothberg International School free of charge and to participate in English-language courses. This offer includes a living stipend and free board, based on available space.

“Higher education, and academia in general, always has to be a tool for helping solve crises”

While the situation continues to evolve, Chamovitz noted that “higher education, and academia in general, always has to be a tool for helping solve crises”.

“The one thing that universities are practised at is accepting and dealing with foreign students, and because we have this expertise, we know how to take them,” he said.

“[Refugees from Ukraine] want to continue their studies so that their time doesn’t get lost. We know how to accept foreign students. We do it all the time under peace, so of course we can do it under war,” he continued.

Some responses have been “surprising”, he detailed, highlighting that “a very senior scientist has contacted us just about moving his entire laboratory to Ben-Gurion University of the Negev”.

However, the fact that many of the Israeli students were studying medicine in Ukraine creates an additional challenge, Chamovitz explained.

“They’re a little bit more complicated on how do you accept them back into the medical schools? Is that even possible? Is there room in hospitals?”

He acknowledged that what the medical students have been offer “may be not what they’re looking for”, it might keep them going until they can return to their medical studies.

“While we can’t accept them into our [highly regulated] medical schools… we can offer them medical studies in key condition studies, emergency medicine, pharmacology to be a pharmacist, at least it keeps them going until they can get back into the medical school studies,” he said.

“But everything outside of medicine, that’s easy for us…

“It’s heartbreaking and unbelievable that in 2022, we have a crisis like this in Europe. It scares the crap out of me.

“It’s very personal for us because remember, in Israel today, we have over a million people who were born in the former Soviet Union. Everyone of those have relatives who are either in Ukraine, Russia or in Belarus.

“The truth of the matter is it never occurred to me that anyone would actually want to talk to me about this because I just assumed that every university was doing this around the world.”


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