The Knesset on Tuesday marked National Student Day with a special plenary session and meetings between MKs and representatives of student unions from universities and colleges across Israel.

The university students met with Education Minister Naftali Bennett (HaBayit HaYehudi), MK Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu), Gila Gamliel (Likud)

– the minister for senior citizens, students, young people and gender equality – and designated opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog (Zionist Camp), amongst others.

Herzog called on the youngsters to advance ”positive thinking and the breaking of conventions,” adding ”we are living in a time of silencing, in the media world and the judicial world. I fear that the violation of the freedom of expression may reach the academia.”

Minister Bennett said social involvement by university students ”helps mold the face of the nation.” He told the students that they play a major role in shaping Israeli society.

During the meeting, Minister Gamliel said the State`s challenge is to ”turn the human capital into something it can benefit from.”

MK Ben Ari, who initiated the day`s events, turned to the student representatives and said: ”The Knesset`s door is open to you, and we will be glad to hear ideas that will effect change. I have no doubt that Israel`s next leaders are among this group.”

As part of National Student Day at the Knesset, a number of lawmakers took a shortened version of the Psychometric Entrance Test, which is generally taken in Israel as a higher education admission exam.

Later, the plenum held a special session to mark National Student Day, during which Knesset Speaker Yuli-Yoel Edelstein said that according to data provided by the OECD, Israel is ranked among the countries with the highest number of citizens who have obtained higher education. More than 310,000 students currently attend no less than 65 institutions of higher learning in Israel, he noted.

”The future of Israeli society is placed, to a large extent, on your shoulders, the young men and women who fill the campuses” Edelstein told the university students who observed the debate from the gallery.

MK Ben Ari said during the plenary session that she considers the incorporation of students in non-profit organizations to be a key element in narrowing the gaps in Israeli society. ”The academia is part of the State of Israel`s melting pot, and it should have an influence in shaping the students` social conscience,” she said.

MK Yousef Jabareen (Joint Arab List) said he plans to present legislation aimed at advancing multiculturalism in Israel`s universities and colleges. ”The goal is to give Arab culture more room on campuses, alongside the existing Jewish culture,” he said.

MK Itzik Shmuli (Zionist Camp) said the academia must take into consideration that some 80% of students work, ”and it also must make an effort to reach other segments of the population, such as Arabs and haredim, as well as residents in the periphery, who have a harder time obtaining a higher education. As we approach the State Budget, it must be made clear that the coalition agreements must not be funded at the expense of the students. That won`t happen.”

Minister Gamliel also stressed the importance of getting students involved in social activism, adding that incorporating the Arab population in the academia is one of Israel`s ”most important challenges.”