Israeli Arabs fighting battle to attend university
Through its 5-year, NIS 300 million plan, Council of Higher Education working to help Israeli-Arab students.
Illustrative photo Photo: Ariel Jerozolimski
Only about 11 percent of college and university students are Arab, according to
the Council on Higher Education (CHE).
Given that the Arab population in
Israel now stands at more than 20%, that number is indicative of the barriers
still holding Israeli Arabs back from gaining the education they seek, and
therefore keeping thousands of citizens from integrating into the Israeli
Recognizing the gaps, the CHE is in midst of a five-year, NIS
300 million plan, begun last year, to make those numbers more reflective of
society as a whole and to make higher education accessible to all
But with institutionalized discrimination present in higher
education, critics say, the government will have to take more aggressive steps
toward leveling the playing field, including allowing university- level courses
in Arabic – and not just for those studying the language.
year, educational institutions will have to translate websites into Arabic and
offer incoming students workshops for improving their Hebrew and other forms of
academic support, all of which will be subsidized by the statecreated
Schools will also be required to come up with plans for recruiting
more minority students and reducing the dropout rate. As part of the CHE’s
overall plan, it will also begin opening information centers in Arab towns
around the country. The centers will offer, among other things, guidance that is
largely unavailable to the majority of Arab high school students.
Binstein, who helped produce the latest report on the issue at the CHE, said the
council’s program will help students “pursue a wider range of careers and will
serve as a stepping stone for new opportunities for graduates.”
extremely high proportion of Arab students, for example, apply only to study in
medicine or related fields.
Having more Arabs attend universities will
“open new horizons for them and therefore it’s something that is a positive in
its own right, as well as how it will positively benefit Israeli society,”
She said that although there is an overall increase in the
percentage of Arab students in higher education, that number has risen at the
same time as an overall jump in the size of the general student
“We are continuing our efforts to increase the representation
of Arabs in the student body, through programs to help students whose mother
tongue is not Hebrew apply and get accepted to university,” Binstein
The problems, however, are multifaceted. Dr. Yousef Jabareen, the
founder of Dirasat – The Arab Center for Law and Policy, a Nazareth-based
organization, said that while the moves are encouraging, they do not go far and
“Creating this plan by itself is a positive development and
I’m glad that the council is giving attention to this issue.
don’t think the plan is comprehensive enough,” said Jabareen. For example, he
applauded the policy of having websites in Arabic, but said that more systematic
discrimination happens in taking the psychometric exams needed for entrance to
“There’s a serious gap of about 100 points between Arabs and
Jews, with Arabs always scoring less, so we argue that it is culturally biased
against Arab students, and I didn’t see anything substantial in the latest
recommendations for dealing with this,” Jabareen said.
“We have also
suggested that first-year Arab students get enrichment classes on how to conduct
and write research, allowing them to gain research skills in Arabic, and in
general to add some university classes in Arabic, in their own language, so it
would be easier for them to understand and connect with
Jabareen noted, citing the report, that only 2% of
university professors in Israel are Arab.
Hampered by many of these
disadvantages, he added, between 7,000 and 8,000 Israeli-Arab students are
studying in Jordan, which is both more expensive for them, and is unlikely to
help them gain unemployment upon their return to Israel. Other Arab students
have been flocking to the West Bank, he added, primarily to the American
University in Jenin.
Meanwhile, he noted, Dirasat has been recommended
allowing the Nazareth Academic Institute, a new college, to be eligible for
becoming a publicly funded institution.
“This is the only Arabic-language
institution in the entire Arab sector. But of all the seven colleges in the
north of Israel, it is the only one where students can earn a BA degree in
Arabic – and the only one that gets no public funding,” Jabareen
“These are important recommendations. But they need a close
follow-up in order to check that they are being implemented and are not just
ideas on paper.”