National Jewish Student Survey, 2011

‘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 headlines from the first National Jewish Student Survey (NJSS), overseen by JPR, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, and published on 4 October 2011. Written by David Graham and Jonathan Boyd, Home and Away: Jewish Journeys towards Independence – Key Findings from the 2011 National Jewish Student Survey can be downloaded from:

The research was commissioned by the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) in partnership with the Pears Foundation. It was funded by the Pears Foundation, with additional support from UJIA, Rothschild Foundation (Hanadiv) Europe and the Maurice Wohl Charitable Foundation.

Quantitative fieldwork (there was also a qualitative phase, of focus groups) was carried out online by Ipsos MORI between 15 February and 15 March 2011. There were 925 valid responses from Jewish students, covering 95 different institutions, which IPR estimates to equate to from 11% to 14% of the total UK Jewish student population. In addition, there were 761 valid responses to a parallel general student survey, run for benchmarking purposes.

Since Jewish students comprise just 0.5% of all full-time higher education students in the UK, they are not easy to reach through normal random or quota sampling methods. Instead, IPR contacted them via the UJS database, a network of 17 Jewish student nodes, and a modest advertising campaign. Three-fifths of responses eventually derived through UJS as a contact source.

IPR is sensitive to the potential weaknesses of this methodology, which are explored in a section of the report (pp. 65-7) on ‘how representative is the NJSS sample?’ The main conclusions are that, while the sample was reasonably balanced in terms of Jewish denominational backgrounds, it was skewed towards students who were more Jewishly engaged.

With this caveat, we may note some of the key statistics from the study:

  • Half of Jewish students attended just eight out of 113 higher education institutions (Universities of Birmingham, Cambridge, Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford, Kings College London, and University College London), against 9% of the national student body 
  • When choosing a university, 45% did so primarily for the course, 23% for the institution’s reputation, 11% for its league table performance, and 10% for its Jewish population size 
  • The most popular courses followed by Jewish students were medicine, politics, and business and finance, and they were three times less likely to be studying education than students in general 
  • Israel and Jewish Studies formed a component of their courses in relatively few instances (18% and 12% respectively), and this was mostly only a small part of the course 
  • 52% of Jewish students described themselves as religious and 41% as secular, with 53% connected to their home synagogue and 34% to the university Jewish chaplaincy 
  • When students were on campus, their levels of Jewish practice diminished compared to when they were at home, but socializing in Jewish circles substantially increased
  • 59% of Jewish students were always open about being Jewish on campus and 35% sometimes open, the remainder concealing their Jewish identity 
  • 31% reported that all or nearly all their closest friends were Jewish, and 29% that more than half were – this was particularly true of students assessing themselves as religious
  • 21% were concerned about anti-Semitism at their university and 42% reported having experienced or witnessed an anti-Semitic incident since the beginning of the academic year
  • 92% had visited Israel and 89% entertained positive feelings towards Israel (with 11% negative or ambivalent), in contrast to the general student population where 63% had no feelings either way about Israel 
  • 38% were concerned about anti-Israel sentiment on campus, the same number as felt that Israel was treated unfairly in their students’ union 
  • 85% agreed that being Jewish is about ‘strong moral and ethical behaviour’, but fewer (two-thirds) that it is about donating funds to charity, volunteering for a charity, or supporting social justice causes 
  • 72% agreed that it is important for a Jew to marry another Jew, although 50% of those who had been in a relationship had dated a non-Jewish partner 
  • 76% were worried about passing their exams, 68% about finding a job, 41% about living up to the expectations of their parents, and 39% about paying off financial debts 
  • Jewish students were more likely than students in general to have relationship issues, feelings of loneliness, and personal health concerns

For BRIN’s coverage of the launch of the NJSS last February, see:

British Religion in Numbers: All the material published on this website is subject to copyright. We explain further here.

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