The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is to set aside a quota of places on prestigious first-degree courses, including medicine, law and psychology, for students from low socioeconomic groups.
The decision represents a "new policy in ideological terms", according to the university's rector, Menachem Ben-Sasson. He said that 5 per cent of university places on prestigious courses would be reserved for students from low socioeconomic areas.
"Ninety-five per cent of students will still be accepted according to criteria that have been used for more than 25 years," Professor Ben-Sasson said. This is based on matriculation and psychometric tests. Entry requirements will be lower for students from certain socioeconomic areas.
The new policy will give "options and hope" to high school students, who may not have believed that they could be accepted to the elite university.
Professor Ben-Sasson said that the new students would be tutored in order to bring them to the same level as the other students. He added: "We are not giving up our standards."
Professor Ben-Sasson said that although the initiative was not specially designed for non-Jewish Israelis, "we would like minorities in Israeli society to enrol".