«Jewish Observer»
March 2002
5762 Nisan

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"Nowadays, fewer and fewer people enter humanitarian faculties of the country's universities", Jimmy Weinblatt, the former Dean of the Social Sciences faculty at Ben-Gurion University, says with bitterness. "It is only the top of an iceberg". A person with higher humanitarian education at power is a rare occasion now...

Within the last year the number of students who study History, Philosophy, Literature, Linguistics, Judaic and foreign languages decreased 14 per cent. But the number of those who specialized in the Sciences, Mathematics, Agriculture and Engineering increased 58 per cent. the rate of humanitarian university entrants fell, too. At the same time young people are more attracted by those colleges where the Humanities are not on the curriculum at all. Now 15 per cent of the country's students study at colleges while the number of university students is 49 per cent. That means that most of the academic degree holders in Israel have no serious humanitarian education. Last year only 6 thousand out of 200 thousand Israel university students joined humanitarian courses.

The situation tells on the whole Israel society in a very serious way. If a person is an expert in education, advertising, contact development or politics, the person has to be an expert in the Humanities. But in reality things are quite different.

"In the mid-80s gigantic U.S. corporation, as well as U.S. medical, law and business faculties gave preference to entrants with all-round humanitarian education", Yossi Iona, a Philosophy professor at Ben-Gurion University, says. "That approach was motivated by the fact that humanists with a bachelor's degree had vitally important socio-cultural skills and a complex world outlook".

Gabriel Motskin, the Dean of the Humanities Faculty at the Jewish University of Jerusalem, was astonished by the fact that, for example, IBM prefers to hire those experts who specialized in Latin, Linguistics or foreign languages at colleges.

But it is not yet the worst thing that Israel's industry is not interested in humanists. For example, in advertising completed higher education is no advantage for a promotion. Life and work experience is more preferable; they rate highly people who have lived abroad and are familiar with the foreign advertising traditions, mothers (children are an important quota of the advertising market) and those with a wide range of interest.

In accordance with the Israel Law on the Press, there are no special requirements as to journalists' education and an editor must finish a secondary school. Meanwhile newspapers are more willing to take on university graduates; but they do not need humanists, they hire experts in "pyar" and veterans of the army radio.

It is well known that an academic degree makes it possible to get higher wages. The wages of a man who has studied for 16 years and more have increased over the last two decades. Now they make up to 171% of average wages in the country with former 135% and is around $2000 with taxes deducted. Non-educated workers' wages have decreased from 74% down to 59%.

Nevertheless, an academic degree in the Humanities does not guarantee higher wages. Wages in the education system are low: a teacher without a university certificate is paid 2 549 sheckels (a bit more than $600), with a specialized secondary education - $25 more, with a higher education - $75 more. In ethnic community centers wages are comparatively high and the starting wages are no less than $1 800, but the Humanities faculty graduates make up quite a trifling minority (30 out of 215 community center headmasters have only elementary knowledge of the Humanities). These posts are held mostly by economists, mangers, administrative officials.

There are even fewer humanitarian faculty graduates in state institutions: the head of a company must have a degree in Economics, Business Management, Law, Accounting, Engineering.

Only 6 out of 120 Knesset deputies have humanitarian university education. 47 deputies have no academic degree at all (including 10 rabbis). Lawyers prevail among university graduates at Knesset (10), the rest are economists, political analysts, scientists.

Yossi Iona says, in the early 1980s the status of the Humanities in the U.K. went down, too. It happened after Margaret Thatcher came to power and declared something like : "Damn all this nonsense!" That crisis was the result of the same ideological conditions which made the ex-Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Natanyaha pounce upon the elite and education.

"There is immediate dependence between the government's privatization policy and weakening of the charity system, on the one hand, and devaluation of the Humanities, on the other", Iona says. "Humanists' motto is education for the sake of education, knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Very few Israelis can afford this today".

This may explain an exception that proves the rule: the same number of students is admitted to the humanitarian faculty of Tel-Aviv University, especially to its pride - Philosophy department.

"We have to admit that the elite faces a very serious problem of a low educational level", Motskin says. "We mustn't let the cultural gap between Israel businessmen, government officials and their colleagues in Europe grow deeper".

"The problem could be less acute if higher technological education included wider general education", Iona adds: "In the U.S. first year college students must get basic knowledge before they choose their major subjects. In Israel, the university life starts right with specialization, general education is out of the question".

"Many students-humanists go in for school-teaching after the graduation", Weinblatt emphasizes. "Their own level is rather low, so the way the Humanities are taught in school leaves much to be desired. This dependence has been observed for about 15 years and it is getting more and more distinct with every oncoming year. But I feel there will be a revolution in this field very soon.

Nehimia Lev-Tsion, the Chairman of the Higher Education Board, told us:

"During the academic year I called the meeting of all rectors and deans of the country twice. We discussed the problem and came to the following decision: if the intake of students to a college grows higher, the college must introduce basic humanitarian subjects into the curriculum. Besides I would like to suggest that high technological company mangers should hire at least one humanist if a company's staff exceed 50 employees".

"Inostranets", Moscow

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