90% British Jewish Students Open About Identity

Jewish students are comfortable being openly Jewish at British universities, despite having concerns about attitudes to Israel on campus. Their commitment to Israel and the Jewish People is robust, but their appreciation of their personal social responsibility lacks muscle.

These are some of the findings of the 2011 National Jewish Student Survey, conducted by JPR, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, and published today. The survey was initiated by the Union of Jewish Students and commissioned by UJS in partnership with Pears Foundation.

The survey provides the most comprehensive portrait of Jewish student identity ever painted. It examines a wide range of issues including what and where Jewish students are studying, the nature of their Jewish beliefs and behaviours at university and at home, and the Jewish paths they have taken during their upbringing.

Highlights amongst the findings include the following:

  • A clear majority is open about its Jewish identity on campus. 59% are ‘Always open’ about being Jewish, and 35% say that they are ‘Sometimes open’.
  • 85% of respondents agree that being Jewish is about ‘Strong moral and ethical behaviour’, but only two-thirds agree that it is about ‘Volunteering to support a charity’, ‘Supporting social justice causes’ or ‘Donating funds to charity’.
  • 89% of Jewish students have positive feelings towards 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 and half have negative feelings. Just 4% of the general student population has ‘very negative’ feelings about Israel.
  • 76% of Jewish students are concerned about passing their exams, and 68% are concerned about finding a job. 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 antisemitism (21%) at university. Indeed, just 4% say they are ‘very worried’ about antisemitism at university.
  • Despite this, more than two in five (42%) respondents report having experienced or witnessed an antisemitic incident since the beginning of the academic year.
  • Almost two in five feel that Israel is treated unfairly in their Students Union, but the same proportion does not know how it is treated. Most (58%) think Israel is dealt with fairly in lectures and classes.
  • When students are on campus, their levels of Jewish practice diminish compared to when they are at home. However, socializing in Jewish circles substantially increases.
  • ‘Reform and Progressive’ students are half as likely to be involved in a university Jewish Society (JSoc) as ‘Orthodox’ or ‘Traditional’ students.
  • One in two Jewish students attends just eight out of 113 academic institutions. By contrast, one in ten of the national student population attends these eight institutions.
  • The most popular courses being studied by Jewish students are medicine, politics, and business and finance, and they are three times less likely to be studying education than students in general.

According to Trevor Pears, Executive Chair of Pears Foundation: ”It’s great to see that the vast majority of Jewish students on campus feel confident and comfortable in their Jewish identity. The findings of this survey are of importance to everyone who is interested in the Jewish community in general and life on campus in particular. It can only be good news that there is now some meaningful data which can be used to inform future policy and investment decisions.”