UK university students okay with being openly Jewish

LONDON – Jewish students at British universities are comfortable being openly Jewish despite concerns about attitudes toward Israel on campus, according to a new study published on Tuesday.

The 2011 National Jewish Student Survey – published by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) in conjunction with the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) and the Pears Foundation – provides the most comprehensive portrait of Jewish student identity in the UK ever painted.

Surveying 925 Jewish students from multiple different backgrounds and studying a wide array of courses at 95 different universities across the country, the study examined a wide range of issues including what and where Jewish students are studying and the nature of their Jewish beliefs and behaviors at university, in contrast to home.

“The report offers us a new, detailed and rather different perspective on Jewish student life to the one that is most commonly presented,” Jonathan Boyd, co-author of the report and executive director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research.

“It challenges us to think about students’ needs from their own perspective, and points to the importance of investing more in encouraging and empowering them to actively contribute to society as proud and committed Jews.”

The highlights of the findings show that a clear majority of students are open about their Jewish identity on campus – 59 percent are “always open” about being Jewish while 35% say that they are “sometimes open.” It showed that 89% of Jewish students have positive feelings toward Israel. In contrast, a majority of students in the general population have “no feelings either way” about Israel. Of those that do, half have positive feelings, while half feel negatively about it. Just 4% of the general student population has “very negative” feelings about Israel.

Almost two in five feel that Israel is treated unfairly at in their university’s student union, but the same proportion does not know how it is treated. Most (58%) think Israel is dealt with fairly in lectures and classes.

While their commitment to Israel and the Jewish people is shown to be robust, their appreciation of their personal social responsibility is lacking.

The study shows that 85% of students agree that being Jewish is about “strong moral and ethical behavior” but only twothirds agree that it is about “volunteering to support a charity,” “supporting social justice causes” or “donating funds to charity.” Jewish students tend to worry more than other students, according to the study, with 76% concerned about passing exams and 68% concerned about finding a job after graduation. Almost half express concerns about personal relationship issues and four in ten are worried about living up to the expectations of their parents. In contrast, fewer are concerned about anti-Israel sentiment (30%) or anti-Semitism (21%) on campus. Only 4% said they were “very worried” about anti-Semitism at university.

Despite this, more than two in five (42%) respondents reported having experienced or witnessed an anti-Semitic incident since the beginning of the academic year.

When students are on campus, their levels of Jewish practice diminish compared to when they are at home, the study showed. However, socializing in Jewish circles substantially increases. Jewish students from a Reform and Progressive background are half as likely to be involved in a university Jewish society compared to Orthodox or Traditional students.

The most popular courses being studied by Jewish students are medicine, politics, business and finance, and they are three times less likely to be studying education than students in general.

“Through working in partnership with Pears Foundation and JPR, we now have vital evidence regarding Jewish student identity and experiences,” said Daniel Marcus, chief executive of UJS.

“As the umbrella body for every Jewish student, we look forward to using these findings to further develop our long-term engagement and campus provision strategy for thousands of Jewish students.”