The community's role in the higher education jump

By Daniel Grabiner, October 7, 2011
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The JC recently conducted a poll asking whether Jewish students were sufficiently prepared for life on campus. Out of the votes cast, 32 per cent said "yes", and 68 per cent said "no".

With an analytical eye, one could question the type of person who responded to the survey. Was it students who said that they were not prepared? Was it parents or just the general public?

There are many issues which contribute to how "prepared" one is for university or campus life. These issues range from academic preparation to living by oneself, and of course, for the Jewish student, it may also mean preparation for dealing with Israel or antisemitism.

With that said this phenomenon is not new or even just limited to British students. It seems to be a general notion that students are not sufficiently prepared for university.

In many ways, Jewish students seem better able to cope with certain pressures of university life

Education Secretary Michael Gove declared in December 2010 in the Telegraph that A Levels were "failing to prepare students for university". One could simply point to the British school system as the real failure to prepare students to cope with the academic pressures of an undergraduate degree.

The same notion was found across the pond. On September 21 2009, CTV in Canada published the results of a similar poll. A 17-year-old English student at the University of Toronto said: "It's a lot harder than I thought it would be" and that "high schools don't prepare you well for lectures cause they spoon feed you".

Students and professors argued that high schools did not adequately prepare the students for one of the most stressful transition periods of their lives- their first year of university- and noted that about one in six students never completed their studies.

From an academic standpoint it's quite clear that students and their lecturers feel that they are unprepared for university life, but what about the rest of life on campus?

When one adds the term "Jewish student" into the mix, it suggests the need to cope with "extra responsibilities" in addition to the academic pressures of any other student.

As demonstrated in the recent UJS, Pears, JPR and UJIA research into Jewish student identity it is striking that the findings show that Jewish students are not actually too dissimilar to other students.

In fact, in many ways, Jewish students seem better able to cope with certain pressures of university life. For example the survey pointed out that a major "worry" of the Jewish student was that 68 per cent of the sample were concerned about finding a job after university, but that the wider student sample responded at an even higher rate at 78 per cent.

It's clear students also feel unprepared to enter the world beyond university. Perhaps this is a wider-spread issue, that today's youth feel unprepared to face the pressures of life, once they have left the safety of their schools days behind.

Jewish students, however, are privy to extra coaching at both ends of university life. The need for better campus preparation is something that UJIA, JAMS and UJS are all acutely aware of and recognise.

At sixth form level, UJIA has a programme run specifically for campus preparation. The aim of the programme is to build resilience in young people and cover all aspects of university life, such as choosing a university, Israel on campus, relationships, cooking sessions and budgeting.

This programme addresses this obvious deficiency in the regular school system and has been incredibly successful in recent years. There were 35 specific pre-university sessions run last year, two university seminars and the UJIA is currently working with six Jewish schools and 18 mainstream schools.

In addition there will be more than 50 campus preparation sessions throughout the year and on November 6 there will be a one-day Israel education seminar. Further to this, UJS is offering various career services to aid Jewish students at the end of their university careers.

What is clear is that the education system has a lot to answer for in terms of academic campus preparation; however, parents and students should be reassured that Jewish campus preparation is something that communal organisations take very seriously and devote copious resources to address this need.

Maybe the poll question should be asked again in a year or two, to see if the outcome is decisively different?

To find out more about campus preparation contact Anthony.ashworth-steen@ujia.org or emmas@ujs.org.uk

Daniel Grabiner is the UJS president

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Last updated: 12:19pm, October 7 2011