Israel to Launch Campaign to Attract More Arab Students to Universities

Education council launches campaign to attract minorities to universities.

Talila Nesher
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Talila Nesher

As Israel's 2012-13 university academic year begins on Sunday, substantial and persistent gaps remain between Jews and Arabs when it comes to pursuing higher education. An internal Council for Higher Education report obtained by Haaretz shows that only around 11 percent of undergraduate students are Arabs.

The education council document is the result of its own comprehensive study, surveying all those involved in the process of accessing higher education - from high school through the senior faculty at institutions of higher learning.

The document was formulated in preparation for a wide-ranging NIS 300 million plan that the council is launching to make higher education more accessible to minorities. The details are being presented here for the first time.

According to the report, Arabs are disadvantaged from the start: While 44 percent of Jewish students meet the minimum requirements for university acceptance, only 22 percent of Arabs do.

Even those who do meet the requirements are less likely to get in: 32 percent of Arabs who apply to institutions of higher education are not accepted, compared to 19 percent of Jews.

Among the main obstacles cited in the report are "the products of the formal educational system." For example, only 57 percent of Arab teens take the matriculation (bagrut ) exams, compared to 75 percent of Jewish teens. Also, only half of the Arabs who sit for the exams obtain a matriculation certificate (28 percent of all Arab pupils ), while around two-thirds of the Jews (51 percent of all Jewish pupils ) earn one.

Another obstacle is the psychometric test, a primary entrance requirement for university acceptance, on which Arabs, on average, score about 100 points lower than Jews. The biggest gaps are in the English scores and this, the report states, is because "English for them [the Arab pupils] is a fourth language (after spoken Arabic, literary Arabic and Hebrew )."

The report, however, also paints a depressing picture for those Arabs who manage to work their way into academia, pointing to sharp drops in equality of opportunity the higher Arab students try to advance.

While Arabs constitute 11.3 percent of undergraduate students, they only comprise 7 percent of master's degree students and 3 percent of doctoral students. Arabs, moreover, make up only 2 percent of the academic faculty.

The document also indicates that many Arab students drop out before earning an undergraduate degree. Arabs make up only 9 percent of those actually earning bachelor's degrees. In the academic year 2009-10, 15.4 percent of Arab students dropped out, compared to only 10.8 percent of Jewish students, the report says.

More Arab students than Jews take longer than the standard three years to complete their degrees. While 53 percent of Jews earn their bachelor's degrees in three years, only 36 percent of Arabs do.

The survey also examined where Arab students obtained their degrees. Only 11.5 percent attended universities, while 24.5 percent were in teacher-training colleges. Arabs make up more than 30 percent of the students at the University of Haifa, but comprise less than 12 percent of the student body at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; less than 9 percent at Tel Aviv University; a little over 5 percent at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Be'er Sheva; and less than 3 percent at Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan.

In an effort to improve the inclusion of minority students, the CHE's NIS 300 million campaign - available from now until 2016 - will allow each institution to offer a basket of support services to Arab students, such as counseling and personal support.

In return, the CHE is also making demands of the institutions. For example, during the coming year they will also have to translate their websites into Arabic; this will be a condition for continued funding. And starting next summer, all institutions will have to offer minority students a workshop to help them improve their Hebrew and their study skills, and offer them general academic orientation. These workshops will be subsidized by the CHE and must begin two months before the start of the academic year.

All institutions will be asked to prepare a long-term plan with clear goals for accepting minorities, varying their fields of study, encouraging them to pursue advanced degrees, reducing dropouts and reducing the dragging out of degrees. CHE funding for minority students will be contingent on this plan.

During this academic year, information centers will start to open in Arab towns and cities, with 25 such centers to open by 2016. In each community, a coordinator will supply information about academic institutions and fields of study to high school students, offer them pre-academic workshops and provide scholarship information. These coordinators will be supervised by a steering committee made up of public figures and academics, most from minority communities.

Arab students face many disadvantages compared with their Jewish peers. For a start, Microsoft's standard Arabic font is almost illegible.Credit: Yaron Kaminsky



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