The start of the new academic year in Israel has been overshadowed by two events: the situation at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which is facing a major deficit and has deferred the start of studies by two weeks; and the decision by the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, to raise the level of Hebrew proficiency required for admission.
The worrying shadow of an attempt to squeeze out Arab students from the prestigious scientific institute hangs over the decision, which has already been implemented for this academic year. In recent years, various education ministers – who are responsible for the higher education system – have taken pride in efforts to bring additional communities into the world of academia, first and foremost the ultra-Orthodox and Arabs. The Technion’s decision sends the opposite message.
A month ago, the institute decided to raise the minimal acceptance score on the Hebrew proficiency exam from 105 to 113 points. Arab high school graduates make up 85 percent of those taking the proficiency test, which is conducted by the National Authority for Measurement and Evaluation in Education (Rama) immediately after the psychometric college entrance exams. According to Rama, the average score is 92 points, and only 11 percent of those taking the test score 120 or higher. (The Technion plans to raise the cutoff score to 121 next year.)
In recent years, the percentage of Arab students studying for a bachelor’s degree at the Technion has risen steadily, and is now over 20 percent. But a study conducted by the Technion showed that a low level of Hebrew proficiency is one of the main causes for student dropout. However, the way the Technion has found to help these students is simply to not accept them, thus saving them the anguish that comes with dropping out.
In the face of this argument, it is worth remembering that the minimum score for acceptance is lower in every other institution of higher learning, save those departments requiring a high level of Hebrew.
Another question is whether the Technion has already exhausted all the ways and possibilities of aiding its students, through both academic and social support and enhancing their Hebrew language tutoring. This institution has proven in the past that, when it wants to, it is capable of significantly lowering the dropout rates among Arab students. There is no reason to end this effort and suddenly change course from helping those with difficulties to blocking their way at the gate. This is not the way.
Figures from the Council for Higher Education show that the percentage of Arab students in educational institutions has grown over the past five years from 9.3 percent to 13.2 percent. This figure is still significantly lower than the percentage of the Arab population in Israel. One of the core goals of the higher education system under Education Minister Naftali Bennett is to increase the percentage of Israeli Arabs in academia. The Technion’s decision runs contrary to this.