Israel's open university is booming

She is president of Israel's largest higher education institution. But it's not Tel Aviv University or the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Professor Hagit Messer-Yaron heads the Open University, which has 46,000 students on its books.

Founded in 1974, the university plays a vital role in making higher education more accessible in a country whose economy depends on a skilled work force. "It's easy if you select the best people," said Professor Messer-Yaron. "But if you start with open admissions, it's a challenge."

The Open University is helping sectors of the Israeli population who have been under-represented at university.

Charedim have often been disadvantaged by the limited secular education they have received at schools, so the university has run preparatory classes in maths or English to bring them up to the requisite standards.

The university also has 4,000 Israeli Arab students. "If you take young married women, they are not allowed to go without a male escort. So we have study centres in their villages where they can come escorted."

Next year a few courses will become available in English, enabling diaspora Jews in the West to study such subjects as secular Judaism or modern Hebrew literature.

    Last updated: 12:57pm, November 24 2011