Commercial Specialist Alan Wielunski made the comments at a student fair in Tel Aviv this month, run by the agency UStudy. More than 30 US and other foreign schools attended, along with thousands of students interested in higher education, language courses and work and travel.
“Israelis sometimes feel isolated here, and they’re always looking for that foreign experience”
“For the past 10 years I’ve been working in this sector and there really hasn’t been that much interest on the part of US schools to come to Israel,” Wielunski said. “This is despite the fact there is a tremendous pool of potential students that are mature and ready to start studying, as opposed to traditional markets where recruiters come and meet with high school students.”
Traditionally Israel has been a hard market to crack. The exact number of Israelis studying abroad is unknown as many hold duel nationality and can study abroad on non-Israeli passports, however some suggest around 14,000 – low for a population of eight million. The US, the top destination, welcomes around 2,700 to its universities although rates are low in Canada (485), France (400) and the UK (300). (Many more will study short term language courses in such destinations, however).
One barrier is that Israelis are not keen on being split from their families for lengthy periods. The country is also home to high quality public universities that cost less than most foreign institutions, which must offer scholarships to compete.
However, Andrea Lang-Raz, director of Yeda Plus, an Israeli test preparation centre where demand doubled this year, says that “a thirst for internationalism” is changing the student mindset.
“Everyone sees that the world is becoming a much smaller global community, and there’s much more educational and business exchange with other countries,” she told The PIE. “Israelis sometimes feel isolated here, and they’re always looking for that foreign experience to open up their world.”
In addition, costs are rising at home. With only seven or eight public universities in Israel competition for entry is intense, says Wielunski. Private colleges are “springing up” but charge almost as much as foreign institutions.
Foreign schools are slowly increasing their marketing activities, with student fairs in Israel more common and better attended in the lest few years (ILAC language schools, SUNY, LSBF and the University of Brandeis were some of the big names in Tel Aviv). Schools add that they are impressed by students they encounter: most Israelis attend the military between high school and college so are maturer, thus surer about what they want, than students in other markets.
“It’s a change of mindset. If schools want diversity they need to look at new and untapped markets”
Beyond the US, there is debate over which destinations are most attractive. Italy and the UK are frequently mentioned for language and HE, while Canada is popular for language, although regions such as Eastern Europe have traction too.
Popular subjects include business studies, medicine, architecture and English language. “We are also seeing a rise in interest for countries with flexible work and study options,” said Jessica Brauser of UStudy, which places 150 Israelis overseas each year. “Just two of those countries are Ireland and Canada.”
Schools wishing to tap Israel’s potential will have to learn about its nuances, however. Anyone that wants a year-round presence in the country must work with agents and yet, apart from the most established operators, they are widely distrusted. Military service (three years for boys, two for girls) also rules out high school marketing, making fair attendance vital.
Nonetheless Wielunski is bullish that foreign schools are finally taking Israel seriously. “Historically schools have focused on the Far Eastern market while to a certain extent they have neglected other markets such as Israel,” said Wielunski. “To a certain extent it’s a change of mindset. If schools want diversity they need to look at new and untapped markets.”