Amount of Bedouin Students in Israeli Higher Education Doubled in Decade

Dedicated curriculum developed to encourage Bedouins to enter university and complete studies still falls short of putting them on equal footing with Jewish counterparts

File photo: A student at Sapir College, Sderot, Israel, March 6, 2018.
Ilan Assayag

The number of Bedouin students enrolled in undergraduate programs in Israeli institutions has doubled over the last decade, according to data from the Council of Higher Education made public on Sunday. However, their number is still low in comparison to the general public.

1,045 Bedouins are enrolled this year in academic studies, up from 520 in the 2009-2010 academic year. The council says, however, it has no figures on how many Bedouin students complete their studies.

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, only 14 percent of Bedouin enroll in academic programs within a decade of high school graduation, as opposed to 46 percent of Jewish Israelis. This disparity is attributed to relatively low rates of high school matriculation among Bedouins.

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A recent Knesset research shows that about one third of 17-year-old Negev Bedouins didn't attend school in the 2015-2016 academic year, and only 32 percent of 18-year-old Bedouin received matriculation certificates. Accordingly, only about one third of Bedouin candidates met entry requirements for universities, as opposed to 68 percent of the general population, not including Bedouin and ultra-Orthodox students.

Of the Bedouin who enter higher education, 63 percent study education and the humanities. The Council of Higher Education subcommittee on planning and funding would like to reduce this figure to 40 percent, and see more Bedouin students in mathematics and science degree programs (from the current 2 percent to 7) or medicine and paramedical degrees (from 6 percent to 10).

Overall, the council aims for 1,500 Bedouin students in Israeli higher education by 2022. It has launched a long-term program to increase enrollment, for which 225 million shekels ($62.3 million) of the council's funds and from the budget of the agriculture, education and finance ministries, have been earmarked.

As part of the program, five academic institutions in Israel's south have developed a curriculum called "Gateway to Academics," intended to help Bedouins complete their studies. It spreads the usual three-year undergraduate degree over four years, with the first year focusing on small-group study and extra English and Hebrew classes. Students also receive financial support during this time.

The program operated at Sderot's Sapir College for the past three years, and this year it was expanded it to Ben-Gurion University, the Open University, Ashkelon Academic College and Achva College, with some 400 Bedouin students. Chairwoman of the Council for Higher Education's planning and funding subcommittee, Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, said the growth in numbers shows the program's success.