Number of Arabs in Israeli Higher Education Grew 79% in Seven Years

Council for Higher Education figures show huge progress but Israeli Arabs still lag far behind Jewish peers in pursuing degrees

Lior Dattel
Lior Dattel
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Students at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on January 11, 2018.
Students at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem on January 11, 2018.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Lior Dattel
Lior Dattel

The number of Israeli Arabs pursuing bachelors degrees at Israeli universities and colleges jumped 60% over the last seven years to 47,000 in 2017, a survey by the government’s Council for Higher Education has found.

Arab students accounted for 16.1% of all students in bachelor degree programs last year, up from 10.2% in 2010, the survey found. In master’s programs, the percentage more than doubled to 13% from 6.2% while in doctoral program the figure climbed 60% to 6.3% from 3.9%.

In absolute terms, the number of Arab students climbed 78.5% in the seven years.

Still, even at the bachelor’s level, that meant that Israeli Arabs, who constitute about 21% of the total population, are still underrepresented in higher education. Israeli Arabs constitute an even higher 26% of the population in the age group at which students do undergraduate studies, making their representation especially low.

The only courses of study where Israeli Arabs are enrolled in numbers that reflect their share of the population are in teaching and related medical professions, the report said. Moreover, some sectors of the Arab population haven’t fared as well as others.

“The last few years have seen impressive advances towards integrating Arabs into higher education thanks to a holistic program and the investment of major resources,” said Yaffa Zilbershats, a Bar-Ilan University professor and a member of the council’s planning and budgeting committee.

“However, among the Bedouin population in the Negev the figures are significantly lower. A college education is the key to reducing income gaps and to creating social mobility, for employment and integration into Israeli society,” she said.

A recent article in Haaretz reported that just 850 Bedouin students were enrolled at institutes of higher education in 2016. However, the council has set a goal of increasing that number by 75% over the next five years, budgeting 110 million shekels ($32.3 million) with a special emphasis on math, sciences, engineering, architecture, medicine and para medical professions.

Israeli Arabs have long lagged behind their Jewish peers in obtaining a higher education and the result is that fewer hold jobs or the jobs they do have pay less. Fewer take the exams needed to apply to university and a smaller parentage graduate from high school compared to Jewish students.

Between 2012 and 2016, the Council for Higher Education budgeted 300 million shekels to encourage more Israeli Arabs to pursue a degree. Under Zilbershats, the council’s planning and budget committee decided to extend the program for another six years at a cost of 960 million shekels.

Yaffa Zilbershats,Credit: \ Eyal Toueg

The program targets between 35,000 and 50,000 high school students annually, helping them to prepare for the psychometric exam they need to take for university admission and continues to provide help for them as they pursue a bachelor’s degree. The study, released on Tuesday, was conducted to measure the success of the program to date.

Among institutes of higher education, the gap between Jewish and Arab enrolment was widest at private colleges, where tuition is the highest. Only 12% of Arab students were enrolled at a private college, compared to 15% of all Jewish students.

On the other hand, 16% of all Arab students were studying at teachers-training colleges in 2016, compared with just 10% of Jewish students. However, teacher’s pay is relatively low and there aren’t enough jobs for all the graduates. As a result, fewer Arab students are enrolling in the programs and opting for other courses of study.

Arabs made up 20% of all humanities and education students in the 2016-17 year, compared to 12% in 2009-10. The percentage in social sciences, business and management jumped to 15% from 8% and in law to 12% from 8%.

The University of Haifa had the largest proportion of Israeli Arab students, 41.1%, followed by 22.2% at the Technion Israel Institute of Technology. Ariel, the university in the West bank settlement of the same name, had lowest proportion of Arab students at just 4.7%.



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