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Youth groups call for gap year clause in fees bill

    FZY members arrive in Israel in September
    FZY members arrive in Israel in September

    Members of Britain’s Jewish youth movements have launched a campaign to challenge the government’s position on the tuition fees rise and gap years.

    Bnei Akiva (BA) and the Federation of Zionist Youth (FZY) started the “Mind the Gap” petition out of concern that the prospect of paying fees of up to £9,000 would discourage students from taking a year out before university.

    Both movements, along with several other Anglo-Jewish organisations, run popular schemes taking British school-leavers to volunteer and study in Israel.

    More than 1,100 people have signed the petition, while representatives from the movements met MPs Matthew Offord and Mike Freer last Monday in the House of Commons to discuss the possibility of proposing an amendment.

    The campaigners have also been in contact with Lee Scott, the Conservative MP for Ilford North.

    Mr Scott resigned his position as a cabinet aide last week because he abstained in the parliamentary vote rather than lending support to his party.

    Following Thursday’s vote, universities will be able to increase their fees to up to £9,000 a year. The change will affect students entering university in autumn 2012, including those currently in their final year of school who have already applied for a deferred place.

    Francesca Wolfe, national director of FZY, pointed out that when fees were previously raised in 2006, the then-Labour government included a “gap year clause” in the legislation.

    She said that the Mind the Gap campaign was designed to encourage the government to offer the same exemption this time.

    She said: “The increase in tuition fees will impact on the number of participants from the Jewish community taking a gap year in Israel.”

    Michael Rainsbury, national director of BA, said: “Our idea is an amendment which would allow anyone taking a gap year to defer and remain under the current fees system.

    “However this would only apply to gap year programmes that benefit society and aid a person’s personal development.”

    He said gap years in Israel were crucial in building the Jewish community of the future.

    “Those who go return with a passionate Jewish identity and a drive to give back to the community on their return.”

    Gabi Sacofsky, who spent last year in Israel with BA and has just been elected chair of Birmingham University Jewish Society, said: “The skills I gained on my gap year were invaluable to my Jewish learning.

    “I really hope others will not miss out on this life-changing opportunity.”

    Other members of the Jewish community have also expressed fears about the impact of the legislation on Jewish students. Last week UJIA chairman Mick Davis and Vivian Wineman, president of the Board of Deputies, sent a letter on the subject to Business Secretary Vince Cable and Universities Minister David Willetts.

    Mind the Gap

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