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(photo credit: Courtesy)
More than 5,000 Israeli Arabs are studying at Jordanian colleges and universities - a massive increase from just 100 in 1998, a new study has found.
Today, Arab students in higher education in Israel number about 10,000 and make up about nine percent of the total student population.
The dramatic increase over the last decade is due to a number of factors, including easier admission requirements in Jordan, a lack of age requirements for acceptance, availability and a similar cultural and linguistic environment, according to the study initiated and sponsored by the Nazareth-based Dirasat: The Arab Center for Law and Policy.
"Many of the students who study in Jordan say their first priority is to study in Israel, but they had to be in Jordan because of the obstacles they face at Israeli universities," said Yousef Jabareen, director of Dirasat. "We need to see how to overcome these obstacles so students can fulfill their higher education in Israel."
Today there are 5,400 Israel Arabs studying in Jordan, an increase from 1,654 in 2004-2005 and from 2,155 in 2005-2006, said Khaled Arar, a professor at Beit Berl Academic College and a co-author of the study. About 30% of these students are female.
Jordanian universities and colleges received about $84.6 million last year from Arab-Israeli students alone, Arar said.
The majority of Israelis studying in Jordan are studying pharmacy, medicine and paramedical fields, such as speech therapy and physiotherapy, he added.
In 2007-2008, 932 students from Israel studied at the University of Science and Technology of Jordan, compared to 673 students in the 2005-2006 academic year. Al-Ahliyya Amman University boasts about 1,700 Israeli Arabs today, Arar said.
Activists say that Israel's psychometric exam and entrance interviews, as well as age requirements for certain university programs, pose unique challenges for Arab students.
Arab students, for example, perform significantly lower on average on their psychometric exams, which are calculated along with a student's grade point average to determine eligibility for admission to a university program. Since 1991, Arabs on average have earned a score of about 110 points less (out of 800) than their Jewish counterparts, according to a 2008 Dirasat study.
Activists argue that this gap is the result of an exam that is culturally biased.
In addition, most universities require students to be at least 19 or 20 to enroll in departments such as social work, nursing, communication disorders, occupational therapy, physical therapy and medicine.
While universities say the policy aims to ensure that students are at an appropriate maturity level for programs that usually require patient interaction, Jabareen and other activists say it disproportionately affects Arabs since the vast majority do not join the military at age 18.
Arar says that affirmative action policies or the creation of an Arab university in Israel might alleviate the desire of Arab Israelis to study outside the country.
"We are afraid that studying in Jordan doesn't prepare them adequately for real life challenges in Israel when they come back," Jabareen added. "Studying in Israeli universities would be a better option for them and they would be more ready for the Israeli market."