Israel's Funding for Empowering Arab Students Not Used Properly

National student union calls on Council for Higher Education to better monitor how stipends are utilized.

Doron Golan/Jini

In order to retain their funding, academic institutions in Israel must now appoint an Arab student to the steering committees working on increasing integration of Arabs into society, a subcommittee of the Council for Higher Education in Israel decided about two weeks ago. The subcommittee, part of the council’s subcommittee on funding, is in charge of implementing a five-year plan to benefit Arabs and other minorities.

The plan, known by its full name as the plan for “expansion of accessibility to Arab, Druze and Circassian society,” is to receive 900 million shekels ($245 million) in funding for the next five years, three times the funding it received for previous the five-year period. The aims of the plan include increasing the number of Arabs graduates from higher education, shortening the length of degree programs, expanding the variety of areas of study that Arab students choose, a program to encourage Arab students to go on to advanced degrees and scholarships for outstanding students for masters’ programs, Ph.D. and post-doctoral programs, as well as stipends to bring more Arab teachers to academic institutions.

The proposal to place Arab students on the steering committee was made by the national student union after it was discovered that the Council for Higher Education and its funding subcommittee were giving the money for the five-year plan to the institutions, but the money was not always being effectively used. For example, the student union found that some institutions were charging fees for preparatory programs designed to advance Arab students, such as workshops in Hebrew, English or math, or for the services of a tutor. The fees are said to help ensure that students are serious about their participation in the various courses.

The coordinator of Arab student advancement in the national student union, Neshat Damalhi, said that fees could be charged to ensure that students were serious, but that such fees might drive away some students. The student union also found that some institutions were advertising cultural events for Arabs that were not actually taking place.

“The institutions don’t use the funding they are allocated, or use them but not 100 percent for the purpose they were intended for,” said Damalhi.

The Council for Higher Education should more strictly monitor expenditures for the program that goes beyond mere reporting by the institutions, he added.

In a survey in Arabic carried out by the student union in cooperation with the Abraham Fund, only 7 percent of Arab students said they had participated in the preparatory program, and 81 percent said they did not participate in the program because they were not aware of its existence. Only 39 percent said they had taken part in encounters between Arab and Jewish students on campus at events sponsored by the office of the dean of students. About half the Arab students said their institution held encounters for Jewish and Arab students.

Only 23 percent of the Arab students surveyed said they had taken part in a workshop on employment, and only 15 percent said they had received occupational counseling during their studies. Those who did receive such counseling said most of it was given in Hebrew.

More than 1,300 Arab men and women students from most of the academic institutions in Israel participated in the survey.