Expanded Higher Ed Opportunities for Arabs Key to Israel Plan

A new six-year plan currently being developed in Israel looks to improve the employment opportunities of members of the Arab community, while at the same time give a needed shot in the arm to the country's economy, Bloomberg.com reports. Manuel Trajtenberg – who is one of the draftees of the plan – spoke about it in an interview, saying that this will be an opportunity to reach a community that has been somewhat economically left behind.

The key to the plan's success is the aggressive promotion of higher education among the Arab residents of the country. Trajtenberg says that both the Arabs and the Israeli community as a whole will benefit from a more educated populace.

Trajtenberg is one of the members of the Council for Higher Education in Israel, the body that "formulates the plan."

As the global economic slump hurts exports, Israel is seeking ways to spur growth, which was 2.4 percent in the fourth quarter, the slowest in more than three years. Technology accounts for nearly half of industrial exports, making higher education central to its success.

Over the life of the higher education council's program for Arabs, the state plans to spend 305 million shekels ($82 million) to subsidize preparatory courses for entrance exams, offer tutoring and career counseling for university students, and scholarships for advanced degrees. Some programs are already running.

Yousef Jabareen, who leads the Dirasat Arab Center for Law and Policy in Nazareth, was cautiously optimistic about the plan, saying that it was a step in the right direction and a concrete move down the path of equality for Arab Israelis. However, he doesn't believe that the measure alone will be enough change the situation very much.

Jabareen says that the country needs to make room in its budget for additional spending on Arab education initiatives and take steps to erase what he perceives as a cultural bias towards Jews on college entrance exams. Jabareen also said that colleges should eliminate minimum admission ages, because those measures delay higher education for Israeli Arabs who do not typically serve in the armed forces of perform community service after high school graduations as Jewish Israelis do.

Arabs, who account for 20 percent of Israel's nearly 8 million people, lag the population on each level of educational achievement and have a higher drop-out rate, according to government data. They make up 12 percent of university students studying for their first degree, 8.2 percent of masters students, and 4.4 percent of doctoral students.

Those who do attend university favor professions such as medicine, pharmacy, nursing and teaching, which enjoy prestige in their community, and are less present in business schools.

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