Israel unveils plans to widen campus access for Arabs

March 31, 2000

Israel's university authorities are planning to attract students from neighbouring Arab states to a new university in Eilat.

A five-year plan for higher education has been drafted by Nehemia Levtzion, chair of the planning and budgeting committee of Israel's Council for Higher Education. In it is a blueprint for the new institution, which could be an extension of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

Planners hope the university, which is likely to focus on the hotel industry and marine biology, will draw students from Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well as Israel.

Professor Levtzion is responsible for allocating 5.2 billion shekels (Pounds 800 million) of state funds to higher education institutions.

Ninety per cent of this funds institutions, including seven research universities. The remainder goes to special priority projects such as the Alon fellowships - which aim to attract more postdoctoral students by offering attractive fellowships - and special programmes for dyslexic students.

Just re-elected to a second three-year term, Professor Levtzion faces two big challenges. "One is to offer universal access to higher education, meaning that everyone who is eligible should have a place," he said.

He must also continue to maintain quality standards in the face of increasing student numbers, which have more than doubled, from 76,000 in 1990 to 200,000 in 2000, including 32,000 part-time students at the Open University.

"We are reaching out to groups in society that were unrepresented in higher education One of our tasks is to make sure there are enough institutions spread around the country. We have to do it at a lower cost than the research universities.

"Our second task is to maintain excellence in science, with scholarships and research. We are at the forefront of science worldwide. We must provide our researchers with enough money for them to compete with other countries. We are now at a turning point, a mini-crisis."

He considers it one of his successes, however, to have "stabilised the system. We made higher education more sensitive to the needs of the public, of the economy, of society, of students. We are changing from an elitist approach to higher education to widening access."

He acknowledged the situation among Arabs was bad. "Arabs make up less than 7 per cent of the student body... In 1991, they made up 6 per cent of first-year students in universities; but in 1996, it was 8 per cent. The number of women among Arab students grew from 36 per cent to 44 per cent between 1991 and 1996." All change: Nehemia Levtzion wants to leave behind the elitist approach to education

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