Number of Arab Engineering Students Doubles in Six Years

'The impressive figures testify to the great success of the revolution in making higher education accessible in Arab society,' says a chairwoman from Council for Higher Education

FILE Photo: Students at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
Olivier Fitoussi

The number of Arab students in Israel studying for undergraduate degrees in engineering and computer science has doubled in six years, reported the Council for Higher Education on Monday. In 2012, about 1,850 Arab students majored in these fields and in 2018 their number reached 3,780.

The percentage of Arab students studying in these fields also grew by 50 percent – in 2012 only 8 percent of all students enrolled in these degree programs were Arabs, while in 2018 Arabs students made up 12 percent of the total. About 60 percent of the Arab students in these fields are studying in Israel’s public research universities, while the rest are studying in private colleges.

>>Read more: Make high-tech, not war: Israel and Palestinians forge cutting-edge coexistence

“The impressive figures testify to the great success of the revolution in making higher education accessible in Arab society,” said the chairwoman of the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education, Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats. “Today we see the Arab students learning and excelling on all the campuses in Israel.” Zilbershats said the CHE will continue to work to encourage the tens of thousands of Arab students to rise to the challenge and study professions that are in high demand in Israel’s economy.

The number of Arab university students in general rose by 80 percent in the past seven years, reaching 47,000 in 2018, compared to only 26,000 in 2011.

Another general trend is the growth in the number of students majoring in high-tech fields, including electrical engineering, telecommunications engineering, software engineering, optical engineering, computer science and mathematics. Over the past six years the number of students in these fields has risen by about 30 percent and is now 34,660. During the present academic year, for the first time, more students registered for engineering programs than for the humanities – which for years were the most popular majors in Israel.

The Council for Higher Education set a goal of increasing the number of students in so-called high-tech professions over the next few years in general, and for Arab students in particular. A steering committee reporting to the Planning and Budgeting Committee worked on the matter and published its recommendations in August 2018.

As for specific recommendations concerning Arab students, the committee recommended a few directions, including investing in improving high school math, science and language studies for Arab students. Among the other recommendations were conducting a program for outstanding Arab students, in which they would be exposed to high-tech fields, and increasing the number of scholarships for Arab students enrolled in doctoral programs, partly to create a larger pool of Arab academic faculty members. The committee’s report said most of the outstanding students from the Arab community study medicine.

The Council for Higher Education has already implemented a number of these recommendations, including a program for encouraging higher education among Arab high school students. The Council is also making public relations efforts to change the negative image in Arab society concerning studying in pre-college preparatory programs. In addition, academic institutions now receive funding to run programs to reduce the dropout rate for Arab students.

The Council recently presented a list of majors in which Arabs students are underrepresented. The steering committee which deals with the issue of increasing the number of Arab students, called this goal is a “national necessity.” The list of fields in which scholarships are available includes psychology, economics, math, communications disorders, social work and veterinary medicine. The committee has also called to increase the number of Arab students studying music and art, which is currently very low.