Youth movements this week welcomed the idea of participants on gap year schemes in Israel being able to use their time abroad to help them win a university place.
Under a scheme run by the Asdan awarding body, students on structured gap years can boost their Ucas points by 70 points – equivalent to an A grade at AS Level – by earning a Certificate of Personal Effectiveness (Cope).
With applications for Jewish gap year programmes down by almost half this year, as students were face with paying annual fees of up to £9,000, such an educational benefit could make all the difference
The qualification focuses on personal skills including teamwork, volunteering and learning a foreign language. Candidates are required to complete 150 hours of activity and assessed by Asdan on a project documenting their efforts in six skill areas.
Although Cope was introduced in 2005, it was with little fanfare and with accordingly limited uptake. Asdan now want to encourage more gap year companies to offer the chance to work towards the qualification.
Barbara Benson, Asdan's head of curriculum development, said Jewish organisations running volunteering and educational programmes in Israel would certainly fit the bill for something challenging young people "to develop skills to a really high level.
"We look at skills rather than the vehicle for them, so theoretically everything could fit in," she said.
"Things like teaching English abroad or studying Hebrew are all fantastically good for developing skills. The idea that it is a simple option is completely false."
Movement workers would need to complete training with Asdan to qualify, but could feasibly offer the Cope course to participants on gap years from September 2012.
The qualification could even be achieved on a shorter gap year programme, such as the UJIA's new five-month pre-university "Israel Journey".
Students would typically only achieve the points after they submitted university applications, but Ms Benson said sixth-formers could still secure a deferred place, conditional on completion of Cope. It could also help those who missed a grade at A Level and wanted to reapply to university on their years abroad.
Francesca Wolfe, national director of the Federation of Zionist Youth, praised the idea of gap years being recognised by academic institutions. "It's about time," she said.
"We offer all of those things at the moment – our programmes are already at that standard.
"People wouldn't have to go for that reason, but it's fantastic that they could."
FZY's year programmes are run in tandem with US youth movement Young Judea, whose participants can already earn college credits on the course. "This is a way for the Brits to have the same opportunity," she said. "We will certainly look into it."
Zionist Socialist organisation Habonim Dror has been unable to build up numbers to take a group to Israel this year because of the fees hike.
"Something like this would be great," said national director Georgie Davis.
"It could also make a big difference to parents," she added.
"Youth movements tell parents the good things participants can get from gap years in Israel. This confirms that it is worthwhile."