The Council for Higher Education announced last week that registration has opened for some 650 scholarships totaling NIS 13 million for Arab, Druse, and Circassian students pursuing an undergraduate education.

The Irtika (rise) scholarship fund, now in its second year, will accompany the students until the completion of their undergraduate degrees, financing 80 percent of their tuition fees: NIS 10,000 in their first and second years and NIS 5,000 for their third and fourth years, based on the length of their studies.

The scholarship program is a collaboration of the council, the Prime Minister’s Office Authority for the Economic Development of the Arab, Druse and Circassian Sectors, the Education Ministry, the National Lottery and philanthropic funds from abroad.

Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, chairman of the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council of Higher Education Committee, said that the aim of the program is to increase the representation of Arab students in the academic world, and that the program is “one aspect of a large sequence of actions” undertaken by the council.

“We are doing this because we believe that this is the right thing, the just thing, the way to social mobility along with personal advancement and closing of gaps,” said Trajtenberg.

“We have to offer everyone, all members of Israeli society, equal opportunities, as each [group] cultivates its unique character. We must create a more equitable... coherent, real society and not just on paper,” he said.

Last year over 4,000 students applied for the scholarship program, with many more expected to apply this time. The participants were chosen based on socioeconomic criteria and according to fields required in the labor market in which Arab representation is relatively low, such as hi-tech, engineering, sciences, economics and the arts.

The criteria were determined by a steering committee composed of members from academia, public officials and representatives of Arab society.

“Access to higher education is one of the main keys to the economic development of Arab society and to minimizing the gaps. As such, it was decided... to establish this scholarship fund to help Arab students achieve a higher education,” said Iman Saif, director of the Prime Minister’s Office Authority for the Economic Development of the Arab, Druse and Circassian Sectors.

The scholarship fund is but one element of a comprehensive plan – formulated by the council in March 2013, allocating some NIS 300m. for six years – for increasing Arab representation in higher education.

The program aims to offer a budgetary response to the various difficulties encountered by Arab students pursuing higher education, offering language enhancement, study skills, academic orientation, cultural preparation, social and academic mentoring and scholarships.

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