Israel to Open First Public College in Arab Town

Primary language at Nazareth college will be Hebrew, but courses will be offered in Arab and English, too.

Yaron Kaminsky

The Council for Higher Education last week approved the establishment of the first public college in an Arab-Israeli city. The college will be established in Nazareth under the academic wing of the University of Haifa, and will be based on an existing college that has been fighting for recognition for years. The official language of the college will be Hebrew, but courses in which the language of instruction is Arab and English are also planned.

The students currently studying at the unaccredited Nazareth Academic Institute in two subjects, chemistry and communications, will begin preparatory courses from the coming semester of this year so they can join the newly accredited institution.

The higher education council stated in its decision to establish an accredited academic institution in Nazareth that “there is a real need in Arab society in the north for academic studies.”

There are already several teachers’ colleges in Arab communities in Israel's north.

The unaccredited NAI functioned as a private institution but was unable to charge the high tuition that is the norm in other such institutions because of the economic situation in the Arab sector, and thus was plagued with funding difficulties. It has been fighting for recognition and funding from the Council for Higher Education since its founding eight years ago.

Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, chairman of the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education, told Haaretz: “When we came into office we said we wanted to make higher education accessible to the Arab sector as a national mission.”

According to Trajtenberg, the college is “not an Arab academic institution, because there is no such thing as a Jewish or Arab academic institution, but location is an important matter because it allows accessibility to the adjacent population.”

Trajtenberg said that the council concluded 18 months ago that there was a need for an academic institution in an Arab community, and began talks with the existing college in Nazareth. The council took into consideration that between 8,000 and 10,000 Arab students study abroad each year, mainly in Jordan, Trajtenberg noted.

Texas A&M University initiated a plan to establish a campus extension in Nazareth and held a publicized signing of an initial agreement. However, problems emerged that have delayed its implementation. Texas A&M is still working in partnership with University of Haifa on the initiative.

"Trajtenberg said that the fact that the college is under the aegis of the University of Haifa is the model for all accredited colleges established in Israel. The college is expected eventually to offer degrees in computer sciences, nursing, economics and accounting, with an emphasis on employable professions.

The council’s chairman, Education Minister Shay Piron, said the establishment of the first publicly funded college in Nazareth is “good news for the Arab sector and its young people, because it makes higher education accessible to them and increases their chances of employment.”

Dr. Suher Basharat, dean of students at the college, confirmed that the official language of instruction would be Hebrew but that “our students will get help in learning Hebrew as part of their studies. This is an unusual move toward Arab society in these times, and can be a point of light in the darkness we are in.”

The chairman of the college’s board, Mazen Kofti, said the intention was “to open the college not only to Arab students but to attract students from all over the region and even from abroad,” adding that he hoped the college would become independent of the University of Haifa within three to five years.

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A reponse to this article - a letter to the editor from the chancellor of the Texas A&M University System - was published on November 25.