The European Commission and the World Bank are to inject emergency funding into Palestine's university system, which has been facing heavy financial pressures during the past three years of conflict with Israel.
The Israeli government has resumed transferring tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority as part of tentative moves towards peace spurred by the US victory in Iraq and the accession of Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian prime minister.
In response, the European Commission has released an aid package that prioritises shoring up the occupied territories' impecunious higher education system. An emergency service support programme will channel about €5.5 million (£3.9 million) into universities and colleges through a trust fund operated by the World Bank. "Its objective," says a commission memorandum, "is to mitigate the deterioration of higher education services resulting from the ongoing conflict."
The money will be spent on non-wage costs in some of the 11 universities in the West Bank and Gaza, such as utility bills, maintenance, rents, insurance, bank charges and audit costs. It will form the bulk of a $7 million (£4.3 million) injection by the World Bank.
This will be complemented by commission spending of €2 million on Palestinian higher education through its Tempus programme, with the aim of reforming and modernising institutions "by developing inter-university cooperation between EU countries and eligible countries".
A World Bank report last year pointed out inefficiencies, such as excess administrative staff and a failure of universities to imaginatively generate revenues in Palestinian territories.
The World Bank officer responsible for Palestinian territories, Claus Astrup, said that the payments would help secure growth in tertiary education. Enrolled students had risen from about 55,000 in 1999 to 80,000 in 2003, although these figures might be unreliable, he said.
World Bank lead operations officer David Steel said: "The overall approach is to try to keep higher education services going and then, when conditions improve, start to introduce (financial and management) reforms."