November 11, 2019

Barriers to Arab Integration into Israeli Higher Education

With higher education recognized as key to improving socio-economic prospects for Israel’s Arab society, a new study for the Ministry of Finance examines trends in Arab enrollment in higher education and identifies continued barriers to integration of Arab students.

The study, Barriers to the Integration of the Arab Population into the Higher Education System, was conducted by Ministry of Finance researchers Ze’ev Kril and Najeeb Amariye.[*] What follows is an English-language summary of the main findings and recommendations.

Main Findings

  1. Higher education clearly and strongly correlates with rates and quality of employment.
  2. Matriculation rates have risen at very similar rates among Arab and Jewish high school students, so the gap between the groups remains.
  3. Despite the rise in the number of Arab students enrolling in higher education, a comparison of these numbers to the percentage of Arab citizens in the relevant age group — who comprise 28% of Israelis aged 20-24 — shows that the gaps between Arab students and non-Haredi Jewish students have not necessarily shrunk. This is due both to the larger Arab population in this demographic than in the overall population, and to the low percentage of Arab men in higher education, with only 10% of Arab men graduating annually with a first academic degree.
  4. Barriers to higher education integration stem primarily from the relatively low level of education and the low achievements of the Arab public education system, which poorly prepares students for advanced studies.
  5. Currently, about one-quarter of Arab students in higher education, about 15,000, are studying in non-Israeli institutions, with 8,000 studying in institutions in the West Bank and the rest in other countries. This is largely due to the discrepancy between the large numbers wishing to study health-related professions and the limited spots for these studies in Israeli universities.
  6. Approximately 15% of Arabs from the relevant age group study for higher education in technical colleges under the supervision of the Ministry of Labor. While most Arab students in academic institutions are women, most Arab students in technical institutions are men.
  7. Arab students are studying more diverse fields in recent years, and more of them are staying in school, two of the goals of the Council for Higher Education’s program to enhance accessibility for Arab students.


Current Rates of Education and Employment

There is a clear and strong correlation between higher education and employment – both the probability of being employed and salary level. Among Arab men with elementary to high school education levels, employment rates are 68% and 82% respectively and average monthly salaries range between NIS 6,800-8,100 (USD 2,000-2,380). These numbers rise for Arab men with a higher degree (whether vocational or academic) among whom employment rates are 91% to 92%, and average salaries are 9,500 and 12,500 (USD 2,800 and 3,680) respectively.

For Arab women the link is even stronger, especially regarding employment rates. Among Arab women with elementary or high school level education, employment rates are between 16% and 25% and average salaries range between NIS 3,400-4,200 (USD 1,000-1,200). These numbers rise sharply for Arab women with a vocational or academic degree, among whom employment rates are 58% and 73% respectively, and average monthly salaries are NIS 4,500 and 8,000 (USD 1,320 and 2,350) respectively.

Gaps in higher education between Jewish and Arab society are not necessarily closing. The researchers claim that the rate of Arab students should be compared to their relative size in the relevant age groups, and not compared to their rate in the general population as is frequently done in government data. Integration of Arab students is usually measured vis-à-vis their numbers among all students compared to the 20% Arab representation in the general population, and according to the Council for Higher Education, Arab students comprised 17% of undergraduates in Israel in 2017-18. However, according to the research, Arab citizens comprise 28% of the population relevant to higher education, approximately ages 20 to 24. The research also mentions that the rising percentage of the Haredi community, which for the most part does not enroll in higher education, lowers the relative population rate of non-Haredi Jews, to which Arab society should be compared.

There is a major gap in higher education enrollment between Arab men and Arab women. While the percentage of Arab women enrolling in higher education has risen 13 percentage points since the beginning of the century, from 22% to 35%, the percentage of Arab men enrolling in higher education rose by only 4 percentage points, from 11% to 15%.

Likewise, gender gaps are clear when looking at those receiving a first degree (bachelor’s) in the past two decades. While the percentage of Arab women with a first degree from Israeli institutions has risen from 9.8% in the year 2000 to 23.7% in 2018, the number of Arab men holding a first degree rose from 7.6% in 2000 to only 9% in 2018. By comparison, 65% of Jewish women and 45% of Jewish men currently hold such degrees.

These numbers do not include the high rate of Arab students who are studying abroad. It is estimated that approximately 15,000 Arab students studied in higher education institutions outside of Israel in 2018, representing 24% of all Arab students in that age group (by comparison, only approximately 5% of Jewish students study abroad). Of those, 8,000 are studying in institutions in the West Bank, while additional popular countries are Jordan, Ukraine, Moldova and Romania.

Ministry-of-Finance-Barriers-to-Higher-Education-graduates-of-academic-vocational-degrees-redoneVocational colleges are a second and critical pipeline for higher education for Arab students, and especially for Arab men. Approximately 12% of all graduates of Israeli vocational schools are Arab men and only about 3% are women, and there are more Arab men graduating vocational colleges per year than graduating with an academic first degree (2,158 and 1,735 respectively in 2017).

The research shows a gradual decline in dropout rates from higher education, in accordance with the goals of the Council for Higher Education multi-year plan. However, dropout rates are still highest for Arab men, as 14% drop out during the first year of study, compared with 6.7% of Arab women and 8.8% and 5.9% of Jewish men and women respectively.

Major Barriers to Integration and Success in Higher Education

  • Preparation for advanced study: The research shows significant gaps in high school achievements between Jewish and Arab students, focusing on the two exams that comprise the gateway to higher education, matriculation and psychometric:

Ministry-of-Finance-Barriers-to-Higher-Education-matriculation-rates–Matriculation: While the percentage of Arab high school students eligible for a matriculation certificate has risen by 17 percentage points between the years 2000 and 2016, the number rose at the same rate in the Hebrew language education system, and so the gaps remain almost the same. Moreover, previous research by the Ministry of Finance shows that gaps begin before students take matriculation tests.

–Psychometric: This exam is perceived by many Arab students as a major barrier to integration into higher education. Although the gap is gradually narrowing between average exam scores of Jews and Arabs, it still stands at about 100 points out of a total score of 800. Gaps are especially notable in the English language chapter, which, according to the research “is another expression of the lack of success of the school system in preparing the [Arab] students for higher education.”

  • Level of Hebrew: Hebrew proficiency is a second major barrier to integration. According to the Bureau of Statistics’ Social Report from 2016, only 43% and 76% of Arab women and men respectively reported a “good level” of Hebrew language speaking skills and 48% and 65% respectively of good reading and writing skills.
  • Socio-economic gaps and parents’ level of education: The wide socio-economic gaps between Jewish and Arab families are also a barrier due to various factors including the ability of poorer students to support themselves through school and the differences in parents’ education levels.  Ministry-of-Finance-Barriers-to-Higher-Education-chart-link-to-parents-education
  • High demand for health studies: Many more Arab students apply to health and medicine programs than are accepted due to the high preference for these fields of study. While approximately 50% of all Arabs who apply to universities are accepted, only 36% of Arabs applying to healthcare-related study programs are accepted, and only 23% of applicants to medical school are accepted. An examination of Arab students at Jenin University, where over half of all Arab students enrolled outside of Israel study, found that about 80% of them are studying medical professions, mostly occupational therapy and nursing.


  • As higher education is closely correlated to both higher rates of employment and gainful employment for Arab and Jewish citizens, and as gaps in higher education enrollment continue, it is important to understand which barriers still exist and their cause, and address them accordingly.
  • The main cause of gaps in higher education between Jews and Arabs is the low level of Arab public schools, which fail to adequately prepare Arab youngsters for advanced study. The research concludes: “Without narrowing gaps in high schools, it is hard to see how gaps in higher education can be narrowed.”
  • Higher education gaps are especially significant for Arab men, fewer of whom enroll and attain degrees than Arab women. At the same time, more Arab men than Arab women are turning to vocational colleges (called “technological colleges” in Israel), and approximately 30% of Israeli students at vocational schools then continue to academic institutions. Therefore, the two systems – vocational and academic – should not be viewed as separate, but rather as complementary, with vocational colleges “acting as a stepping stone” toward academia for some Arab men.
  • There is a need to expand healthcare-related study fields within the country so that these students can matriculate in programs supervised by the CHE, be in closer alignment with the needs of the domestic health field, have an easier time integrating into the health care job market, and improve Arab integration into higher education and Israeli society.

[*] According to the study, “the opinions in the report are currently those of the researchers and do not necessarily represent the government.”

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