Universities still set to start December 31, but reservists to have staggered return

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Students at Tel Aviv University. (Flash90)

By: Gavriel Fiske  Published: December 24, 2023

After months of delays, academic year to officially open next week; reserve soldiers to have ‘concentrated week’ of condensed studies when they are released

Israel’s major universities are set to begin the delayed academic year on December 31 as previously scheduled, the Association of University Heads announced Sunday. The Israel Defense Forces had requested a further delay last week so that students still serving in the reserves amid the war could begin the year along with the rest of their peers.

In a compromise solution, IDF reservists will begin their studies “a few weeks later” and will have a condensed week of intensive classes upon their return to get them up to speed on missed material, after which they will be integrated into regular classes, the Association of University Heads said in a statement.

The start date or dates for returning reserve soldiers is to be coordinated with the IDF, for now left unspecified. It is unclear how many student soldiers the army will release from duty in the coming weeks.

The universities and colleges are committed to doing as much as they can to ensure that “no student is left behind,” the university heads said in their statement. Exact details on implementing the multi-tiered opening and possible additional aid packages would be up to each institution, they added.

The compromise plan “takes several release dates into account. Even those who are released later on will receive additional help and support,” the university heads said in a statement to The Times of Israel.

Originally set to begin on October 15, the academic year has been delayed multiple times due to the conflict in the Gaza Strip. The current December 31 start date was previously confirmed on December 10.

The military’s request for a further delay until mid-January was discussed during a Tuesday meeting of the Knesset Education Committee.

“We have reached a point where there are two bad choices… to lose a year of study and the other, something that temporarily harms the reservists,” Prof. Arie Zaban, Bar-Ilan University president and head of the Association of University Heads, said at the Knesset committee meeting.