A plan to create the first haredi (ultra-orthodox) college, with separate classes for men and women, has been approved in principle by Israel's Council for Higher Education.
While separate classes for men and women may not be unusual in universities in other Middle Eastern countries, it is a departure in Israeli universities.
"We think that the atmosphere has changed in the haredi population, which understands the need to enter into higher education, and therefore we think it is an important step towards making this sector more productive," said Nehemia Levtzion, chair of the planning and budgeting committee of Israel's Council for Higher Education.
Professor Levtzion explained that although the haredi college can recruit students, the academic responsibility will rest with accredited institutions such as Bar-Ilan University and the Jerusalem College of Technology (Machon Lev), until "they (the haredi colleges) create their own academic framework". He estimated that it would be from three to ten years before they achieve this.
Degrees will not be awarded by the haredi college, but by the accredited institutions involved in teaching there. Under this arrangement, the college will offer fully accredited degree courses in computers, social work, business management, accounting and nursing.
There are already two institutions in Jerusalem that cater for the haredi population: the Jerusalem College, an academic teaching college that grants BEd degrees to students including haredi women, and the Jerusalem College of Technology (an institute of higher education) that trains engineers and offers incubator space for small business start-ups.
In light of the approval, one campus in Bnei Brak has already opened its doors to students, while a second, in Jerusalem, is not due to open until October 2001.