Five New Jersey universities have been awarded $25,000 grants aimed at encouraging undergraduates to spend a semester abroad studying in Israel.
The funds come from MASA Israel Journey, and the recipients will use the money to link their students with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Be’er Sheva.
The grants are to be spent on marketing to recruit participants at the College of New Jersey in Ewing, Montclair State University, William Paterson University in Wayne, Rider University in Lawrenceville, and Ramapo College in Mahwah.
Each campus will receive an additional $25,000 in 2013 if at least 25 students sign up each year. Jewish and non-Jewish students may apply. MASA does not supply any direct financial aid to the participants; the five schools have agreed to accept the credits the students earn in Israel through the program.
“The target is a total of 25 students from all those colleges,” said Daniel Schuval, the director of academic affairs in MASA’s New York office. “Our goal is to increase the participation in international education programs in Israel.”
A joint project of the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency for Israel, MASA has traditionally provided scholarships to Jewish post-graduates to help them participate in extended-stay programs in Israel.
The new program “is for any student who wants to study there,” said Jon Stauff, who directs the Center for Global Education at The College of New Jersey. Stauff is in the early stages of coordinating the program at his and the other four campuses. “We are interested in bringing its broad opportunities to our students,” he told NJ Jewish News in an Oct. 12 phone interview. “We have a number of curricular initiatives in Middle Eastern studies and Arabic on our campus, and if we are going to be promoting study in the Middle East, Israel should be an option.”
Schuval said NJ educators and BGU will also together develop programs that focus on the physical sciences, as well as sociology and anthropology.
“Israel is a leader in some of the world’s most relevant fields, and their academic institutions are top-notch,” Schuval said.
According a 2009 report by the Institute of International Education, Israel ranks 22nd out of the top 25 countries chosen by Americans for study abroad. MASA’s focus on non-Jewish course material and recruitment of non-Jewish students is an attempt to raise its ranking, Schuval said.
“The universities weren’t accessing the best that Israel can offer to students from abroad,” he said.
He denied that the program was intended to counteract anti-Israel activities that take place on many American college campuses.
“This is a study abroad program; it has nothing to do with divestment or the political positioning of Israel. They are largely political debates,” Schuval insisted. “I welcome those who are critical of Israel to study there. They will find welcome intellectual company at some universities there. This is not by any means a way to reposition Israel on American campuses. This is a way to build relationships.”
Those wishing further information can contact Stauff at firstname.lastname@example.org.