Political leaders, civil society representatives, members of Arab local councils, and academics, as well as government officials from the Council of Higher Education, gathered in Tamra on Thursday, June 15, to discuss higher education and the Arab community in Israel. The roundtable, which was organized by the Mossawa Center in cooperation with the Committee for Educational Guidance, the Follow-Up Committee on Arab Education Issues, the Tamra Municipality, and the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, allowed representatives of the Arab community to share their ideas with representatives from the Council of Higher Education. During the meeting, participants discussed some of the main challenges facing Arabs in higher education and both the importance and the shortcomings of the Council of Higher Education’s five year, NIS one billion plan.
The participants highlighted a variety of issues relating to higher education. They noted that, although the Arab community accounts for over 20% of the population, Arab students constitute only 15.2% of all undergraduate students, 11.3% of master’s students, and a mere 5.7% of doctoral students. With thanks due largely to the Council of Higher Education’s most recent plan regarding the Arab community in higher education, this is a notable improvement from recent years. In 2011-2012 Arabs accounted for only 9.6% of undergraduate students, 6.4% of master’s students, and 3.8% of doctoral students.
In light of such disproportionate (albeit improved) representation, roundtable participants called on the state to mitigate the obstacles to entry into higher education that Arab students face, beginning with the psychometric exam. Similar to the SAT in the United States or the baccalauréat in France, students in Israel must pass the psychometric exam in order to pursue higher education. In comparison to their Jewish counterparts, Arab students tend to do poorly on the exam, with average scores one hundred points lower than the average Jewish student’s score. Participants in the roundtable attributed this, in part, to the fact the test is not culturally adapted to Arab students or adequately translated. They also noted that, as a result of a divided education system that systematically discriminates against them, Arab students already find themselves at a disadvantage to their Jewish counterparts. It should come as no wonder that Arab students fare poorly in comparison to Jewish students when one considers the fact that the state spends 35-68% more on average on its Jewish students than it does on its Arab students.
Budgetary discrimination at lower levels of education also contributes to the alarmingly high dropout rate of Arab students, of whom over one-third drop out before completing their degrees. Arab students who come from Arab areas have a particularly hard time as a result of their difficulties with the Hebrew language. With this in mind, the participants in the roundtable suggested that the state increase its investments in Hebrew language instruction at the high school level. Participants also attributed high dropout rates amongst Arab students to a lack of accessibility. At present, there are no universities in Arab cities or Arab areas, deterring students spatially and financially from pursuing higher degrees, especially in light of the state’s limited investments in transportation infrastructure in Arab areas.
The roundtable addressed the lack of representation amongst faculty and staff, too. With a mere 110 Arab professors employed in Israel, only 3.23% of all professors in Israeli higher education institutions are Arab. Similarly, Arabs work in only 2.2% of administrative roles. Not only do these figures suggest discrimination in employment, but they also point to limitations on free speech in Israeli academic institutions, where Arab, Palestinian, and progressive voices are often silenced if given the opportunity to speak in the first place. This gives rise to a general sense of alienation amongst Arab students who must carefully navigate a space that systematically denies their national, cultural, and historical narratives.
As a result of these disparities and a systematic lack of diversity in Israeli higher education institutions, 13,000 Arab students have left Israel to study in the West Bank and Jordan alone. With 44,000 Arab students in higher education in Israel, roughly a quarter of Arab students study outside of Israel. In total, Israeli universities lose more than NIS 100 million each year to Arab students studying abroad.
The Mossawa Center has proposed a comprehensive list of recommendations to the Council of Higher Education (Hebrew only). For more information or to send any further recommendations, please contact [email protected].