A special report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has recommended the Higher Education Planning and Budgeting Committee use public funds to support the Nazareth Academic Institute, launched earlier this year.

The report said that considering the underrepresentation of the Arab population in higher education in Israel, steps must be taken to ensure appropriate support of the institution, which the is first Arab institution in Israel to offer comprehensive higher education. The OECD also noted that investing in higher education in the Arab community would carry mid-term and long-term benefits for the economy, including a rise in tax revenue and creating jobs.

Raed Mualem, senior vice president of the Nazareth institute, told Haaretz he had approached the committee for state funding three months ago, but so far received no reply.

The institute began its first academic year with 40 students, most of them studying in two departments - chemistry and communications. The Council for Higher Education is now considering whether to approve computer science and occupational therapy departments as well.

Some 40% of the faculty are Jewish, including Shany Payes, who heads "peace studies" - a compulsory subject for all students. Twelve out of the 24 academic council members are Jewish, and the council is chaired by Prof. Jacob Katriel of the Technion, who also serves as dean of sciences and heads the chemistry department.

The other Arab colleges operating in the north of the country concentrate on training teachers, and are under the auspices of the Education Ministry. The Nazareth institute is the only one working under the Council for Higher Education.

In September, Mualem took part in an OECD conference in Paris, where conclusions of regional studies were presented. "The international organization sees academia as an engine of economic and social development, and they really liked our model of operation. The participants asked questions I didn't have the answers to - they couldn't understand how come six colleges in the area get state support, while the only institute that doesn't get state support is the one located in the largest Arab city."

The Council for Higher Education decided years ago to freeze funding for new academic institutions, due to severe budget cuts, and the president of the Nazareth institute, Prof. George Knaza, said the institute's registration was made under the commitment it would not seek public funding. "We were forced to sign this commitment so that our request is considered and confirmed," he said. "I guess the council hoped we'd die from lack of funding, but we have a very strong drive for life. If we want to develop and contribute to Arab society, we have to have state support. This should also be a state interest."

The Council for Higher Education said in response that higher education institutions are open after in-depth studies considering the national, geographic and employment needs. An institute opened without this process is only authorized after it has been found to live up to all academic and infrastructural conditions - without public funding, which was agreed to by the heads of the college when it was launched, they said.