Palestine colleges run short of cash

February 26, 1999

A number of universities in the territories run by the Palestinian Authority are facing a severe funding shortfall.

Palestinian universities are private bodies and have little or no state support. Although financial support from among the West Bank and Gaza Strip Palestinian communities has been strong, there has always been significant income generated from overseas supporters. Funding from these sources has been decreasing over the past two years, a trend that is not expected to be reversed.

One departmental head said: "The Intifada brought the Palestinian people's plight to everyone's television screens and made it relatively easy to secure support for individual universities from the United States, Europe, and other Arab states. Unfortunately, just when we have the opportunity to invest and catch up the lost time wasted during the Israeli occupation the contributions are drying up."

The second reason for the shortfall is growing demand both for new courses and more places on those that are running. Although students are charged fees, the costs of new buildings, infrastructure, equipment and management systems are often difficult to finance from this income alone.

"We are in a kind of vicious circle," said one administrator. "Politicians and private companies say that they need more qualified graduates to develop the Palestinian economy, the universities find it difficult to respond without financial help, which they encourage industry and government to provide."

The Palestinian Authority has been very successful in attracting Palestinian academics and their families back to the country from well-paid jobs abroad. These people want to expand the universities and their intake.

However, much of the money given by the donor nations has been sunk into national infrastructure programmes and immediate problem areas, such as waste management and water or sewerage projects. Very little direct help has gone to education and the little that has found its way into classrooms is directed at secondary schooling.

Initiatives by the European Union and individual countries to help with curriculum development, collaborative research and continuing professional development, are highly praised locally.

But the underlying problem of how the universities are to be funded long term is an internal problem the Palestinian Authority needs to address soon.

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