MKs: 'Find a way' to fund Arab-sector clinical psychology program

U. of Haifa program shut down after initial money ran out.

The Knesset Education Committee demanded last week that the budget and planning committee of the Council for Higher Education "find a way" to fund an Arab-sector clinical education and psychology program that the University of Haifa shut down last week without giving prior notice to students and applicants. The program was established in 2002 in recognition of the dire need for clinical psychologists in Israeli Arab schools. Only 115 out of 2,000 clinical psychologists employed in Israeli schools work in the Arab sector, despite the fact that Israeli Arabs comprise over 25 percent of the nation's pupils. According to Prof. Ramzi Suleiman, who headed the university's psychology department when the program was first run, concentrating all Arab clinical psychology students in a single course was seen as an advantage. Workshops were run in Arabic, the language of the pupils with whom the future psychologists would have to work. The program had been initiated by the Council for Higher Education and the council allocated it extra funds. Last week, however, the students were told that the program had been cancelled. The announcement appeared as a short notice on the university Web site. Raneen Nicola, who wanted to apply for the course, said she was "dumbfounded." "All other masters' courses in psychology require a special examination that takes place in October," she said. "This course was the only one exempt, so those who applied for it didn't take the test. Now, not only can't we study the field of our choosing, but we are effectively barred from pursuing masters' courses in psychology for the entire year." MK Nadia Hilu (Labor), who was present at the Knesset debate, said the university had crossed a red line, "hurting not only the students but thousands of school children." She said she would demand the education minister's "urgent and personal" intervention in the matter. The CHE's budget and planning committee said at the debate that the funds requested by the university for the program were excessive, that the initial sponsorship of the course had ended and that it had no choice but to shut down the program altogether. However, following the debate, the committee said it would seek renewed negotiations with the university with the aim of reopening the course at its previous budget. The University of Haifa was unavailable for comment.