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AS A NATION, PALESTINIANS ARE AMONG the best educated people in the post-colonial world, a status made all the more significant by the adverse conditions under which it has been achieved. Due to the Israeli occupation and the lack of an internationally recognized Palestinian state structure, however, Palestinian higher education has evolved thus far in an ad hoc fashion. At this critical moment in the process of Palestinian state-building, therefore, it is worthwhile to examine systematically a series of issues that will influence the future direction of Palestinian post-secondary education and in the twenty-first century. This paper has two purposes: first, to discuss some of the specific challenges that confronts Palestinian post-secondary educators at the present time and, second, to examine the implications of different choices that might be made.

A recent report by the Strategic Committee on the Future of Palestinian Higher Education articulates several broad objectives of Palestinian higher education--providing knowledge, "enhancing students' intellectual capabilities and the ability to conduct research and investigations,. . . maintaining Arab/Islamic culture and consolidating its values to instill objectivity, democracy, and respect for others" -- as well as one critical specific objective: "We consider that one of the most important priorities of higher education. . . is [to contribute to] Palestinian national integration and development." [1] In addition, the report recommends that priority be given to assuring widespread access to higher education, increasing both the quality and relevance and course work, and developing appropriate research institutions that can address societal needs. [2]

To a significant degree, these goals are similar to those of any educational system; some, however, reflect the particular Palestinian situation. Thus, the opportunities and challenges facing Palestinian post-secondary education need to be understood within several distinct but overlapping contexts: global trends in higher education, issues common to higher education in many post-colonial, newly independent countries, and the unique aspects of higher education in Palestine, given its specific history of occupation, the intifada, and current state-building activities. We will focus primarily on the specific Palestinian context but will make reference to the other two dimensions when this is useful to avoid notions of Palestinian exceptionalism. [3]


For a variety of reasons, Western academic models have come to dominate post-secondary educational institutions throughout the world:

The fact that the Western University institutionalized the study of science and later its production is a key factor. The link between universities and the dominant world economic systems no doubt is a particularly important reason for Western domination. For significant parts of the world, academic institutions were imposed by colonizers. There were few possibilities to develop independent alternatives. In many cases, traditional indigenous institutional forms were destroyed by the colonizers, as in India when in the nineteenth century the British imposed European patterns and no longer recognized existing traditional institutions. [4]

This pattern has significant implications in the Palestinian setting. First, the existing structure of higher education follows, with only a few exceptions, "Western" models (although a mixture of approaches -- primarily U.S., British, and French -- are followed). This is true whether the institutions were initially established by groups from outside of Palestine (e.g., Bethlehem University), by private citizens within Palestine (e.g., Birzeit), or by a quasi-governmental authority (e.g., Al-Quds Open University). In some ways, this is surprising, since Arab higher education dates back more than a thousand years. Writing about the Arab world in general, Byron G. Massialas comments:

Although there were indigenous historical antecedents to present-day higher education institutions in Arab lands.... [The] cultural heritage of Arab Islamic civilization has not, on the whole, contributed much to the identities of modem universities in the Arab world. We cannot refer to an Arab-style university as we do to British-, French-, or American-style universities. The discontinuities in the history of higher education in the region probably played a significant role in the loss of the early Arab-Islamic educational character and traditions. [5]

Thus, there are both region-specific and general explanations for this orientation toward Western approaches to post-secondary education in Palestine. Second, a large number of Palestinians, particularly among the elite, attended Western institutions in Europe and North America. If past trends continue, these individuals will want their children to receive a similar type of education. This educational conservatism is encouraged by the Palestinian status as a displaced population. Education is perceived as an attractive investment because it cannot be taken away: Palestinians around the world have found that education provides one of the best guarantees that they will be able to earn an income under adverse circumstances. The fact that Palestinians see education as a necessity rather than a luxury means, however, that they are likely to be very cautious about it: Most will seek educational credentials that are widely acceptable, which again points to following the Western model in most circumstances.

For these reasons, Palestinian higher education is not building from a blank slate, as is the case for many other institutions being developed by the Palestinian National Authority (PNA). Instead, there is a substantial base of existing, if incomplete, institutions and, equally important, a base of expectations among the political elite for what a system of higher education should look like.

At the same time, however, the Western model has considerable diversity, as can already be seen in the mixture of programs found in the various universities within Palestine. Furthermore, changes in the social, political, and economic environment of Palestine will modify the parameters within which education operates, for instance by de-emphasizing the role of education in providing a financial safety net for displaced persons and instead focusing on local and regional needs. Finally, as numerous scholars have pointed out, it is essential to keep in mind that "imitation or the reproduction of foreign models is in itself a kind of cultural dependency, and imitation that borrows only the form without paying attention to the spirit behind it cannot function correctly; sooner or later, stagnation occurs or great harm is caused." [6]


One of the first questions that Palestinian policy makers are addressing is the balance between professional and liberal arts education. Professional education focuses on specific knowledge that is directly relevant to a student's intended career; examples of professional fields include engineering, computer science, law, education, medicine, and business. A liberal arts education, in contrast, concentrates on teaching the skill of learning through a concentration on topics that are not directly relevant to the careers of most students (such as literature, social studies, or the pure sciences). Virtually all modern universities combine both types of study and most programs include some liberal arts training even if they are primarily professional in orientation. Nonetheless, the issue of the relative balance between professional and liberal arts training remains contentious.

Because of the precarious economic status of many Palestinians, higher education in Palestine has often focused on professional education:

In spite of the hardships and the impossibility of any central or national planning, by the early 1970s the number of Palestinians studying in universities in proportion to their population as a whole was among the highest in the world. The goal of education was simple and clear: getting degrees in order to get jobs. The types of degrees that Palestinians sought were determined by the professions, areas of specialization, and types of jobs that were available, mainly in neighboring Arab countries. [As a result,] certain crucial needs [of the Palestinian community] . . . were neglected. [7]

This again reflects the educational conservatism we discussed above: If a university degree is to provide economic security, individuals may well conclude it is important to invest in fields such as medicine, engineering, or education (teaching) where the likelihood of finding employment outside the country is high.

If the experience of Europe and North America is an appropriate guide, future Palestinian independence is likely to lead to an increased demand for liberal arts education. The general skills of a liberal arts graduate tend to be relevant to managerial positions, from which Palestinians have frequently been excluded in the past due both to restrictions on economic development in occupied Palestine and to political considerations in the Palestinian Diaspora. With the removal of constraints on economic activities in areas under Palestinian political control, more managerial jobs should become available. While the liberal arts degree does not provide the short-term economic payoffs of a professional degree, it actually provides greater economic returns in the long run: In the United States, the average income of undergraduate liberal arts majors exceeds the average income of undergraduate professional majors by about age forty. [8]

Another calculation relevant to the balance of professional versus liberal arts education involves cost. The marginal costs of a liberal arts education are relatively low; these involve only the expense of qualified instructors and a well-equipped library with computing connections. This is also true of some professional programs -- for instance, business, law, and education -- but in other fields the costs of maintaining up-to-date equipment and laboratories can be very high. Given limited financial resources, it will not be possible for every institution to offer every subject (nor do they attempt to do so at present). For instance, nursing is offered at only three universities: Islamic University of Gaza, Bethlehem University, and al-Quds University; engineering is available only at the Islamic University of Gaza, Birzeit University, An-Najah University, and the College of Engineering and Technology; and students can obtain a degree in Hotel Management only from Bethlehem University. As universities in Eu rope, North America, and Japan have discovered, such specialization will continue to be necessary. Furthermore, in the immediate future, Palestinian students will still need to go out of the country to receive a state-of-the-art technical education in certain fields, even at the undergraduate level.

At the other end of the spectrum, the role of community colleges and technical colleges needs to be formalized and expanded. Internationally, these post-secondary institutions typically fulfill three somewhat different roles. First, they can provide training in fields that require specialized knowledge beyond that provided by the secondary school system but do not require the skills (nor, typically, the liberal arts component) of a full university degree. In Palestine, there are already programs in a variety of technical, vocational, and service sectors, such as secretarial services, banking, civil engineering, and pottery production; as the economy evolves the importance of these and similar courses of study will increase. (This is one potentially important role for al-Quds Open University as well.)

Second, community colleges can provide remedial training for students whose secondary school preparation was insufficient to prepare them for tertiary education. [9] This second function is likely to be particularly important in Palestine for the foreseeable future due to the numerous disruptions and inequalities in secondary education caused by occupation as well as the return of diaspora Palestinians who had inadequate opportunities for secondary education. [10] Finally, such institutions can offer continuing (adult) education "geared toward the building of human resources and empowering people" to think and act creatively and with a sense of efficacy. [11]

In an ideal system of higher education, the capacity and roles of the community colleges and university systems are finely tuned. In the United States, the three-tiered California system -- which combines two-year junior colleges, four-year "state" colleges, and elite research universities -- provides one example of this. [12] The admission qualifications become stricter at each stage of the system, but more resources are devoted solely to teaching (as distinct from research) in the lower levels of the system. This allows students to enter the system at a stage appropriate to their preparation: A student from a privileged academic background may be admitted directly into the research university, but it is not uncommon for a student from a weaker background to begin at a two-year junior college, transfer from there to complete two more years at a state college, and after successfully obtaining their B.A. degree, do graduate work at a research university. As a consequence, the tiered system can provide greater equitable access to educational resources than a system where all institutions have equivalent standards. Strengthening the connection between the community colleges and the universities would enhance educational opportunities for Palestinian students.

Finally, in the short term, another role that institutions of higher education can perform is to prepare students for graduate work in North America and Europe until such time as Palestinian institutions can develop these more advanced programs. While the political situation in Palestine remains unstable, this might also be an important function of junior colleges because a student might rationally seek even undergraduate education abroad due to the unpredictability of the environment (e.g., closures of universities, Israeli raids targeting students, roadblocks preventing students from attending classes).

The lack of familiarity with the expectations of tertiary education in Europe or North America can be a major barrier to otherwise qualified students. Some countries that send a large number of graduate students to the United States (for example, South Korea and the Republic of China) now provide optional preparatory courses that can be taken by students considering graduate work overseas. These courses feature readings and lecturing exclusively in English and are evaluated using U.S.-style assignments and grading (for instance, research papers are expected to follow the U.S. style of citation and bibliography). [13] Fulbright visitors (and their European equivalents) are one way of providing such courses, but since most of the faculty at the secular Palestinian universities received advanced degrees in Europe and North America, similar courses could also be offered by these faculty. This type of advance preparation literally can make the difference between the success or failure of a student in a foreign de gree program, and the work done in such a course (for instance, an English-language term paper or final exam that could be included with an application to graduate school) can significantly increase the likelihood of competing successfully for admission and financial assistance in a foreign institution.


In the past several decades, there has been a massive expansion of post-secondary education throughout the Arab world, including in Palestine. In 1970, there were less than half a million students enrolled in post-secondary Arab institutions throughout the Middle East; by 1985, this had increased to nearly two million students, and enrollment continues to grow. [14] This expansion is consistent with global trends: The number of students enrolled in higher education has increased significantly, particularly in newly independent states. Many view education as the path out of poverty and toward upward mobility, and indeed in the past it has often fulfilled this role. Thus, there are tremendous pressures on national governments continually to expand educational opportunities ("educational democracy"); failure to do so can jeopardize the state's legitimacy in the eyes of the population.

At some point, however, this approach becomes difficult to sustain. The direct costs involved in supplying widespread education are difficult for a poor country to provide; indeed, even relatively prosperous states such as Germany and Italy have experienced problems when government promises of wider access to higher education have not been matched by the resources required to maintain the quality of that education. Furthermore, the increased economic expectations of those who have completed advanced schooling may not be met if the level of development is not yet high, a problem that Egypt has been facing for several decades. This can have a ripple effect, locking countries into certain economic patterns that are not necessarily in their best long-term interest.

To help cope with the demands for more education some developing countries have sought aid from the economically developed countries or loans from the World Bank. But such external finding has only accentuated the fiscal crisis of the State in these countries. ... Many of them seemed to have been in a "Catch-22" situation because the more they need to borrow funds to provide facilities like education, the greater becomes the problem of their external debt; more local efforts then have to be geared towards production for export; the more local needs remain unsatisfied, the more the local discontent spreads, and the more the State has a problem of legitimacy ... [15]

This issue raises several further questions that are relevant to all postcolonial societies: What percentage of those students who successfully complete secondary school does the society hope to educate further? [16] What relationship, if any, should exist between education and employment opportunities? Should the state actively intervene to channel students into fields of specialization which are needed by the society as a whole or allow students to pick, even if this means a disjuncture between education and available jobs? [17]

Practical concerns about financing higher education also come into play. If finances are limited, as is the case in the Palestinian context and elsewhere, is it more important to provide equality of opportunity or to maintain a certain quality of education? How should education, particularly higher education, be financed? This last issue has two components: the financing of the tuition of individual students and the financing of the institutions as a whole. As Johnstone points out, these costs must be covered by some combination of:

All citizens -- through taxes or through the debasement of purchasing power brought on by the inflationary printing of currency;

Parents -- through direct payments for tuition or through the direct or indirect support of the costs of student living;

Students -- through payment of tuition or living expenses either through term or summer work, depletion of savings, or the assumption of future loan repayments or graduate tax obligations;

Businesses -- through the assumption of some or all of the student loan repayment obligations of employees, or through special tax assessments in proportion to, e.g., total payroll or number of graduates hired; or

Philanthropists -- through current gifts or the investment return on past gifts. [18]

Determining the desired (and feasible) balance among these sources of income, as well as developing those sources that are not currently being tapped, is a key challenge for Palestinian higher education. For instance, in the past five years, there has been a rapid increase in the percentage of total university budgets that is covered by student fees (due to increased tuition costs and increased student numbers) and a decline in the contributions of the Council for Higher Education (on a percentage basis). [19] This is not unlike the British experience under the conservative governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major (not normally considered a model for the PNA). Whether or not this shift in financial responsibility is desirable, necessary, inevitable, or problematic needs to be explicitly confronted.


Until this century, the cost of higher education in most countries was borne almost exclusively by individual families and, to a lesser extent, by charitable and religious institutions. Needless to say, this limited access to post secondary education to the children of the wealthy and to a few very bright students who could attract the attention of a donor (often through a commitment to a religious group). In the twentieth century, this changed as most developed countries expanded social benefits to include access to higher education for a much larger group of qualified students. In Europe this occurred as a general policy by socialist governments. In the United States, state funding was initially linked to military service (the "GI Bill"); however, the resulting growth in the public education system led to an expansion of government support through a variety of subsidized grants and loans.

On the surface, government assistance at a level that allows all qualified students to attain higher education seems like an ideal democratic policy, differing little from the universal provision of primary and secondary education now found in all industrialized countries. In practice, however, several problems intervene. The most important of these is that the costs of higher education involve not only tuition but also the opportunity cost of deferring entry into the labor force. The children of poorer families may be unable to delay this --particularly if the business involves a family farm or small family business -- even if tuition is free. A related consideration involves the extent to which students from poorer families are equally likely to meet the qualifications for entry into college. In general, urban secondary schools provide better college preparation than isolated rural schools, and students who do not contribute labor to the family (e.g., by after-school work on a farm or business) are more li kely to do well in school than those who have such obligations.

The combination of these two factors leads in many cases to a situation where tuition assistance becomes of subsidy from poor families to the middle class. This can be avoided by substantial means-testing (i.e., linking tuition assistance to income) but in practice tuition assistance programs are politically feasible only if they have the support of (and benefit) the middle class. Meanstesting also tends to put perverse incentives into the program. For instance, if family savings are included in calculating qualifications, this penalizes individuals who sacrifice to save for their children's education in comparison with an equally well off family that fails to do so.


The institutional status of Palestinian universities has developed along the same pattern seen in most of the world. Initially, institutions of higher education were established by religious organizations (e.g., Bethlehem University) or by groups of private citizens on a not-for-profit basis (e.g., Birzeit and al-Najah universities). In some instances, institutions founded with a religious orientation expanded their scope and established a largely secular curriculum (Hebron University). Finally, in recent years universities have been established by the central political authority (Al-Azhar; Al-Quds Open University) and through the consolidation of smaller institutions (Al-Quds). This pattern is identical to that found in North America and most of Europe, where experience has shown that such a mixture of private religious, private secular, and public institutions is not only stable but produces little, if any, friction provided all institutions have equal access to public resources such as scholarship money a nd research grants.[20]

In the past decade a fourth model has emerged, notably in Jordan and Egypt: the for-profit university. This is initially an attractive model for the rapid development of a higher-education infrastructure, since it can tap private sources of investment funding and can self-finance as the student body expands. In fact, a highly successful university, such as has been proposed for the Jenin area, could also be a significant source of foreign exchange by attracting students from elsewhere in the region (for example, students from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf who currently attend schools in North America and Europe).

If the experience of higher education in Europe and North America is a useful guide, however, there is little likelihood of the for-profit sector providing quality higher education except in a limited number of professional or skill-based fields. This is due to a fundamental contradiction between the profit motive and the most important "service" provided by higher education: evaluation. Outside of a few specialized fields, university graduates are hired not for a specific body of knowledge, but rather for their proven ability to learn. Consequently a student who studied medieval Islamic history may be hired as a bank manager and even a student in computer science will do most of her professional work with computer systems that did not exist when she attended classes. A liberal arts university degree involves acquisition of knowledge; ultimately, however, it is the process by which that knowledge is acquired rather than the knowledge itself that society values.

Certification of the successful student also involves refusing to certify those who cannot meet a set of criteria. The higher those criteria are set, the more valuable the degree. This runs directly counter to the motives of for-profit universities because those institutions depend, at least in the short-term, on tuition revenues. Students who have been dismissed from an institution no longer pay tuition; therefore the financial incentive for the institution is to keep as many students enrolled as possible, whatever their qualifications and their accomplishments (or lack thereof) in the program. This in turn lowers the value of the degree, which lowers the quality of students wishing to attend the institution, which further lowers the quality of the degree, putting the institution into a downward spiral. [21]

In theory, a for-profit university could maintain standards until such point that the quality of its evaluation attracts sufficient students to provide a sufficient and stable cash flow. This process is likely to require several decades, however. In practice, over the course of several centuries of educational experiments in Europe and North America, no for-profit liberal arts institution has demonstrated the ability to acquire a high reputation. Only not-for-profit institutions (secular and religious) and government-funded schools have this staying power.

The for-profit institutions can, however, fill a niche in fields where there is a separate evaluation procedure. This is exactly where one finds such institutions operating successfully: in technical fields that have rigorous licensing procedures and, to a much lesser extent, in the field of medicine (for example, the numerous "off-shore" for-profit medical schools in the Caribbean and Latin America that feed into the United States medical licensing system). [23] In all likelihood this limited role is the only one that for-profit institutions can successfully fulfill. Thus, we anticipate that the lenin experiment will fail if it attempts to provide a traditional liberal arts curriculum.

At the same time, this does not preclude the possibility of higher education producing a substantial and direct economic return to Palestine. In the United States this occurs both through the direct payment of tuition by foreign students (as well as collateral payments for food, housing and so forth) and through the indirect benefits that foreign students provide to the research and technical infrastructure of the United States. Nonetheless, these benefits accrue through the traditional not-for-profit institutions rather than directly through forprofit institutions.


The last general issue we wish to address is the relationship between post-secondary institutions and basic (as opposed to applied) research. Western universities have developed a number of different models. At one extreme is the United States approach, where virtually all basic research -- including a great deal of government and private-sector research -- is done at "research universities," which also handle most of the graduate education. The opposite extreme was found in the former Soviet Union, where universities focused exclusively on instruction while basic research was confined to specialized government-funded institutes with no direct educational mission. Germany and Japan use a combination of the two models, with some specialized institutes but also some research-oriented graduate training.

The U.S. model has the potential of providing a high quality of graduate education in which students work on cutting edge problems while simultaneously using graduate students as highly skilled, but relatively inexpensive, labor. There are at least two disadvantages to this approach. First, the research and teaching components sometimes place competing demands on academics, with some top researchers being poor (or distracted) instructors, and some excellent instructors being unable to fill research expectations. [23] Second, the system relies on a pool of graduate students who are willing to provide their services in a low-paid apprenticeship in exchange for the expectation of later academic employment. In the United States, this employment was historically provided by the large number of institutions of higher education that did not do research (roughly six times the number of research institutions); in recent years, it has also been supported very substantially by foreign students, particularly in the natu ral sciences and engineering.

The liabilities of the U.S. model have two implications for Palestinian institutions. First, at the present time, the indigenous needs of Palestine can probably only support one, or possibly two, institutions that combine research and graduate education on the U.S. model. If this is true, substantially more basic research will need to be done outside of the universities in specialized institutes or by government agencies.

Second, this situation could change if Palestine were to become a major center for graduate education in the region, replacing the role currently filled by European and North American universities. At the present time this is unlikely given the political conflicts in the region but if a true and comprehensive peace was established that included Palestinians as full and equal political partners, it might be possible. In such circumstances the Israeli universities would also try to play the same role and would have a comparative advantage due to their more advanced infrastructure. Palestinian universities, however, would have an advantage in being able to offer Arabic language instruction and, for the foreseeable future, a more hospitable cultural environment. In a true peace settlement, collaborative efforts such as Palestinian instructors offering extensive course work at Israeli institutions might be possible (for example, between Al-Quds and Hebrew Universities).

While the possibility of Palestine establishing higher education as a major "industry" may seem fanciful in the current political environment, in a situation of true regional peace and open borders it would be quite plausible. Palestine is located within in day's drive of several large population centers, including Amman, Beirut, Cairo, and Damascus. The nearby higher education institutions in Israel are well-established internationally and have many links -- both collegial and electronic -- to universities in Europe and North America. Finally, the prevalence of diaspora Palestinians in existing educational institutions throughout the Arab world would provide Palestine with a priceless resource for assessing the educational needs of the Arab world, as well as for recruitment of faculty and studies. While Palestine is relatively poor in the natural resources required for an industrial infrastructure, it may be very well endowed for the demands of a post-industrial economy.


Few post-colonial societies have been fortunate to have as significant a base of expertise regarding higher education as have the Palestinians. This means that Palestinians have the opportunity to consider carefully the strengths and weaknesses of various approaches to post-secondary education and construct a system that is truly customized to address Palestinian needs and aspirations. What we have attempted to do in this paper is to specify some of the key challenges that face the Palestinian system of higher education as it looks toward the twenty-first century and indicate some of the trade-offs that are inherent in various options. Decisions about the types of post-secondary education, the extent to which university education is universally available, the funding arrangements for such education, and the balance between technical and decision-oriented training within international studies are only a few of the choices that will need to be made. The decisions made in these areas and others will fundamental ly shape Palestinian higher education in the new millennium and will also influence the nature of Palestinian society in the years to come.



Al-Azhar University was established by the PLO in 1992 at the same location as the Islamic University of Gaza. It currently enrolls about 9,700 Gazans who study law, education, science, commerce, or arts. Thirty-nine percent of the students are female.

Bethlehem University is a private institution founded in 1973 by the Catholic De La Salle Brothers and is supported by the Vatican. Twenty-one hundred students (65% female) take courses in the faculties of Art, Nursing, Business Administration, Science, and Education, as well as in the institute of hotel management and tourism, and in the midwifery program. Three-quarters of the students come from the Bethlehem-Jerusalem region; most of the remainder is from Hebron.

Birzeit University, located north of Ramallah, just outside Birzeit village, began as a secondary school in 1924. After some years as a junior college, it became a private autonomous four-year university in 1975 with the addition of a senior class. Birzeit, which enrolls more than 3,600 students (41% female), offers Bachelor's degrees in Arts, Sciences, Commerce and Economics, and Engineering, as well as an M.A. degree in International Studies and in Education. Nearly half the students are from the Ramallah district, with the rest coming from throughout the West Bank and Gaza.

Hebron (El-Khalil) University was originally known as the Center for Islamic Studies (College of Shari'a) when it was founded in 1971. It expanded into an independent national university in 1982 and now offers undergraduate programs in Arts, Sciences, Agriculture, al-Shari'a, and Finance and Management for 1,600 students (50% female), about 85% of whom are from Hebron.

Islamic University of Gaza, established in 1978 as an offshoot of the Palestinian Religious Institute, was for many years the only university-level educational institution in Gaza. It now serves some 6,700 Gazans, more than a third of whom are female. About half the students study education or commerce. As its name suggests, the Islamic University is a distinctly religious institution: women and men are taught separately and traditional Islamic attire is required of all female students, faculty, and administrators.

An-Najah National University is the largest of the West Bank Palestinian universities, with 7,600 students (41% female); nearly 80% of whom are from the Nablus-Tulkarm area. Located on a hill outside the center of Nablus, an-Najah began as a secondary school in 1918, then became a college and teacher-training facility in 1965 and a full-fledged private university in 1977. It now offers undergraduate degrees in Arts, Sciences, Business Administration, Education, and Engineering, as well as M.A. degrees in several fields.

Al-Quds University was established in 1984 by combining four existing Palestinian colleges in the Jerusalem area: the Shari'a College in Beit Hanina, the el-Bireh College of Nursing, the College of Science and Technology in Abu Dis, and the College of Arts for Women in Jerusalem. It now serves nearly 2,600 students (53% female) with undergraduate programs in Arts, Science and Technology, Medicine, Law, Islamic Studies and Jurisprudence, and Allied Health Professions, as well as a MA program in Islamic Archeology. About 40% of the students are Jerusalemites; another third are from the Ramallah or Hebron districts.

Al-Quds Open University is a national university established by the PLO Higher Council for Education, Science, and Culture in 1985. Its headquarters were originally in Amman, Jordan but moved to Jerusalem in 1994, after responsibility for education was transferred to the Palestinian National Authority. It current enrolls about 8,500 students (43% female) in the Arts and Sciences, Education, Business, and Agriculture. The largest group is from Gaza (26%) but, like Birzeit University, al-Quds Open University draws from the entire Palestinian community.

In addition to these eight universities, there are some two dozen community colleges and a four-year polytechnic in Hebron.

Deborah J. Gerner and Philip A. Schrodt are professors in the Department of Political Science, University of Kansas, Lawrence. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Second International Conference on Palestinian Studies, Birzeit University, West Bank, 12-15 December 1996.


(1.) Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, et al., "A Future Perspective for Higher Education in Palestine: Education for National Integration and Development" (Ramallah, Palestine: Council for Higher Education, 1995), photocopy.

(2.) Ibrahim Abu-Lughod, "Higher Education in Palestine: A New Vision for National Integration and Development," Presented at the Program for Palestinian/European/American Cooperation in Education (PEACE) International Conference on Higher Education in the Context of an Independent Palestinian State, 7-9 November, 1996, Nablus, photocopy.

(3.) An excellent monograph on the current state of Palestinian higher education is Paul G. de Nooijer, Higher education in the occupied territories (Den Haag, The Netherlands: Nuffic, September 1996). Other works that examine Palestinian post-secondary education under occupation include: Gabi Baramki, "Building Palestinian Universities under Occupation," Journal of Palestine Studies 17,1 (Autumn 1987): 12-20; Baramki, "Palestinian University Education under Occupation," Palestine-Israel Journal 3,1 (Winter 1996): 37-43; Birzeit University Public Relations office, The Criminalization of Education: Academic Freedom and Human Rights at Birzeit University During the Palestinian Uprising (Birzeit, Palestine: Birzeit University Press, 1989); Ruth Gavison, et al., "Report on the Condition of Universities in the Occupied Territories" (Jerusalem, 1981), photocopy; Deborah J. Gerner, "Higher Education Under Occupation: Palestinian Colleges and Universities in the West Bank and Gaza," in Third World Affairs 1987 (Lond on: Third World Foundation for Social and Economic Studies, 1987), 191-206; Gerner, "Israeli Restrictions on the Palestinian Universities in the Occupied West Bank and Gaza," Journal of Arab Affairs 8,1 (1989): 74-123; Sarah Graham-Brown, Education, Repression and Liberation: Palestinians (London: World University Service, 1984); Jerusalem Media and Communication Center, Lessons of Occupation: Palestinian Higher Education During the Uprising (Jerusalem: JMCC, May 1990); Olga Kapeliouk, "The Palestinian Universities Under Occupation," Arab Studies Quarterly 7, 2-3 (Spring/Summer 1985); Nigel Parry, Making Education Illegal (Birzeit, Palestine: Birzeit University Press, January 1995); Anthony Thrall Sullivan, "Palestinian Universities under Occupation," Cairo Papers in Social Science 11,2 (Summer 1988); and World University Service, Where Education is a Crime (London: World University Service, 1990), 29-36. In addition, The Journal of Palestine Studies regularly publishes updates and articles on Palestinian hi gher education.

(4.) Philip G. Altbach, "Patterns in higher education development," in Higher Education in an International Perspective: Critical Issues, ed. Zaghloul Morsy and Philip G. Altbach (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1996), 23.

(5.) Byron U. Massialas, "The Arab World," in International Higher Education: An Encyclopedia, Vol. 2, ed. Philip G. Altbach (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1991), 983.

(6.) Zaghloul Morsy, "Introduction," in Higher Education in an International Perspective: Critical Issues, ed. Zaghloul Morsy and Philip G. Altbach (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1996), xv.

(7.) Munir Fasheh, "Community Education: To Reclaim and Transform What Has Been Made Invisible," Harvard Educational Review 60,1 (1990), 26.

(8.) This applies to undergraduate training. In the United States many liberal arts majors go on to professional graduate programs in law, medicine, and business.

(9.) In order to gain admission to one of the universities, students must receive a minimum score on the Tawjihi examination, regardless of their other qualifications. Some educators have argued that the heavy reliance on the Tawjihi has a variety of negative effects, including "an unbalanced situation in which students with high scores pursue science, engineering and pharmacy programs, while those with low scores pursue studies in the humanities and education." (Valerio Grementieri, summarizing an argument by Mufeed Shami, "Report from Working group on the Institutional Development of Higher Education in Palestine," PEACE International Conference on Higher Education in the Context of an Independent Palestinian State, 7-9 November, 1996, Nablus, photocopy.

(10.) In the period before the partial implementation of the Oslo Accords, the most common disruption of secondary education was caused by the closure of schools by the Israeli military authorities: This was particularly acute during the intifada. Since 1995, the problem has changed to one of access: The Oslo Accords and subsequent agreements have fragmented the West Bank into scores of enclaves under full or partial PNA control which are separated by areas under full Israeli control. Israeli closures severely restrict movement between these enclaves and many students are cut off from access to schools for days or weeks at a time.

(11.) Fasheh 1990, 33; also see Munir Jamil Fasheh, "The Reading Campaign Experience within Palestinian Society: Innovative Strategies for Learning and Building Community," Harvard Educational Review 65,1 (1995), 66-92.

(12.) We are framing issues in a U.S. or Western context as a way of positioning Palestinian higher education in a broader setting and because the United States and Palestine are the two educational systems with which we have the most experience. This should not be taken to mean we believe that Palestinians should necessarily model their system of higher education after the West (although as we point out this has already occurred).

(13.) We use the example of the United States because we are familiar with it; similar courses could be developed as needed for graduate course work in the United Kingdom and France.

(14.) Massialas 1991, 980.

(15.) M. K. Bacchus, "Education in the Third World: Present Realities and Future Prospects," in Contemporary Perspectives in Comparative Education, ed. Robin J. Bruns and Anthony R. Welch (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1992), 102.

(16.) Within the industrialized world, there is a wide range of answers to this question, from the highly inclusive United States model to the more elite British approach.

(17.) For a discussion of the potential contradiction between promoting educational democracy and addressing the problem of imbalance between specialization, see Raji Abou-Chacra, "The problems of higher education in the Arab States," Prospects 11,3 (1991).

(18.) D. Bruce Johnstone, "The Costs of Higher Education: Worldwide Issues and Trends for the 1990s," in The Funding of Higher Education: International Perspectives, ed. Philip G. Altbach and D. Bruce Johnstone (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1993), 6.

(19.) de Nooijer 1996, 59.

(20.) While this mixture is common in much of the world, it is unusual in the Arab context. As of the mid-1980s, only about three percent of students who were enrolled in higher education attended private institutions. Like Palestine, Lebanon has a number of private colleges and universities; in Egypt there is the American University in Cairo. In most Arab countries, however, private post secondary education is rare or nonexistent. (Source: Massialas 1991, 979-980.)

(21.) This is precisely the pattern experienced by the last major attempt in the United States to develop a for-profit liberal arts university: Parsons College in Fairfield, Iowa. This opened in the mid-1960s with an innovative curriculum, well-paid faculty, and efficient management. In order to generate sufficient revenue, however, Parsons lowered standards to attract wealthy students who failed to meet the academic standards of not-for-profit institutions (and, not coincidentally, wished to avoid being conscripted for military service in Vietnam). Parsons quickly became known as "Flunk-Out U." The faculty soon left, its programs lost accreditation, and it went bankrupt in the mid-1970s.

(22.) This also explains the success of for-profit instruction at the secondary and primary levels: The quality of instruction can be immediately evaluated by the success of students on standardized tests (for example, the Tawjihi) and on the ability of graduates to gain admission to appropriate tertiary educational institutions.

(23.) Within the U.S. system, the latter group can -- in theory -- find jobs in institutions that have a primary focus on teaching, although in recent decades research expectations at many of these schools have increased to levels earlier found only at comprehensive elite universities.

(24.) Based on Gerner 1989: updated from Abu-Lughod 1995, Baramki 1996, de Nooijer 1996, and Palestinian Ministry of Higher Education, Statistical Yearbook (Ramallah), 1997.
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Author:Schrodt, Philip A.
Publication:Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)
Geographic Code:7PALE
Date:Sep 22, 1999

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