Mind the gap - and tuition fees are to blame
Changing view on an Israel experience: The rise in tuition fees is deterring potential year schemers
A coalition of communal organisations has launched a 10-week mini-gap year experience to attract those giving up the traditional gap year in Israel to start university before the rise in tuition fees.
Youth movements are concerned that those trying to beat the increased fees of up to £9,000 annually, effective from 2012, will miss out on the gap year experience.
Orthodox organisations Tribe, University Jewish Chaplaincy, Project Chesed and Aish say their mini-gap will cram the highlights of the full programme into the July-to-September period.
UJIA is also developing an alternative gap year for students who want to go straight to university. In participants' first year at university, they can travel to Israel for a one-month programme in the summer and do Jewish Europe in winter.
It has also set up a steering committee to examine the future of gap years and start long-term planning.
Union of Jewish Students' president Alex Dwek believes the rise in fees "will have a significant impact on the number of Jewish students taking a gap year in Israel next year.
"Many [Jewish sixth-formers] have said the decision on a gap year will depend on whether or not they receive an offer for a university place this year.
"Gap years in Israel play an essential part in the personal development of many Jewish students. The additional financial burden placed on students will mean that the cost and duration of Israel gap years may need to be re-evaluated, as students may need to spend an increasing amount of time on their gap year in paid employment."
FZY, which has the highest uptake of members on an Israel gap year scheme, is anticipating a 60 per cent drop in demand this year. Year course recruiter Emma Nagli said: "We believe that a gap year spent in Israel is extremely beneficial to an individual, and to the Jewish community.
"The fact that the rise in fees is deterring individuals from embracing such experiences and values will affect both the individual and the Jewish and wider community." There would be "a possible decrease in forming a strong Jewish and Zionist identity and a possible increase in intermarriage in the long term".
Masorti youth arm Noam has shortened the length of its scheme to six months, with a "dramatic drop in demand" a contributory factor. Noam's Richard Sarsby felt "that our shorter programme enables young people to spend time with Noam in Israel, as well as giving them time to work or go travelling elsewhere".
RSY's Josh Martin also reported "a noticeable impact" on demand. "Of the dozen people who expressed an interest in doing Shnat Netzer with RSY-Netzer in early October, fewer than half are now able to participate."
Bnei Akiva's Michael Rainsbury warned of the affect on "youth movements, JSocs and the whole community in the long term.
"With the constant pressure of yearly exams, a year in Israel teaches young adults that there are other important values in life.
"You can't put a price on a gap year - it's too valuable."