Number of Arab students in Israeli universities grows 78% in 7 years

Despite success of government program, minority community is still underrepresented in academia, especially the Bedouin sector

Dov Lieber is a former Times of Israel Arab affairs correspondent.

Illustrative: Arab Israeli students at the campus of Givat Ram at Hebrew University, on the first day of the new academic year, October 26, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Illustrative: Arab Israeli students at the campus of Givat Ram at Hebrew University, on the first day of the new academic year, October 26, 2014. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The number of Arab students in Israeli universities grew by 78.5% over the past seven years, according to new research by Israel’s Council for Higher Education (CHE).

According to the survey, Arab students accounted for 16.1% of undergraduate students in Israeli universities, up from 10.2 % in 2010.

This increase has carried over to graduate programs, where the percentage of Arab students since 2010 has doubled from 6.2% to 13%. In postgraduate programs, the proportion of Arab students rose 60% from 3.9% to 6.3%.

The survey, which was reported Wednesday in the Marker business daily, was tracking the success of a CHE program aimed at better integrating the Arab Israeli community into higher education. The government spent NIS 300 million ($88 million) on the program in 2012-2016.

The success of the program has led the government to extend it to 2022, with a total budget of NIS 1 billion ($294 million).

In total, the number of Arab students in Israeli universities grew from 26,000 in 2010 to 47,000 in 2017.

Illustrative image of Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein speaksing to Arab students on the first day of school at the Mekif highschool in the Arab Israeli village Abu Gosh on August 27, 2013. (Isaac Harari/FLASH90)

The program concentrates on preparing Arab students in high school for  study in Israeli universities, where Hebrew is the primary language, and for matriculation exams.

The program also aims to prevent Arab students from dropping out during the difficult first years of undergraduate studies.

Despite the success of the CHE program, Arab Israelis are still underrepresented in Israeli universities.

The 1.75 million Arab citizens of Israel constitute 21% of the population and at the age bracket for undergraduate university students they constitute 26% of the population.

The only subjects in which Arab students were represented in proportion to their percentage of the population were education and medical professions.

According to the survey, there has been an increase of Arab students in subjects in which their representation has been low in the past. This includes increases of enrollment in engineering (66%), mathematics and hard sciences (44%), humanities (66%) and business administration (87%).

Illustrative view of the Bedouin town of Hura, in the southern Negev Desert, on August 27, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The Bedouin community, however, continues to be severely underrepresented in Israeli academia.

According to the CHE, there were just 850 Bedouin students enrolled in Israeli institutes of higher education in 2016, whereas thousands of Bedouin Israelis are enrolled in Palestinian universities in the West Bank.

The CHE has developed a five-year plan, with a budget of NIS 100 million ($294 million), to increase Bedouin enrollment rates by 75%.

Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, chairperson of the CHE’s planning and budgeting committee, said in statement on the council’s website: “The Planning and Budget committee defined the multi-year plan for accessibility and narrowing of the gaps in the higher education system as a central goal.”

She added: “Academia is key for integration into society and industry. Therefore, in the next few years we will invest plenty of resources, including professional and individual support, in order to pave the way to academia for students, the Bedouin in particular.”

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