Israel Universities Try To Keep Arabs Out
- Israeli academics fight 'racist' university test
Chris McGreal in Jerusalem
Monday December 1, 2003
Israeli academics are threatening to call for an international
boycott of their
own university heads if admission tests alleged to have curbed the
Arab students are reintroduced.
The heads of the country's five universities last week announced that
bring back controversial psychometric testing that favours middle-
The boycott would include rejecting academic papers from individual
The psychometric assessments were dropped more than a year ago,
resulting in a
big increase in the admission of Arab students. A statement by
justifying the tests has reinforced the view that the move is racist.
lecturers at Israeli universities met at the weekend to decide how to
Nadim Rouhana, a psychology professor at Tel Aviv university and
director of the
association of Arab professors, said: "It's an openly racist policy,
more dangerous is that it's being conceived and conducted by what
considered the centres of enlightenment, the centres of education. I
will be one
of those to call for a boycott in Europe and the world."
The psychometric tests were dropped in the hope of benefiting poorer
families originate from the Middle East. They lost out in tests
skewed in favour
of wealthier Jews of European origin.
But the main beneficiaries were Arab Israelis poorly versed in test
such as Jewish history and Hebrew literature. At Tel Aviv university
of Arabs studying medicine rose sixfold.
University heads did not refer to Arabs in their statement announcing
reintroduction of the tests but spoke instead of students from poor
families. It said: "Admissions policies based on grades do not make
accessible to students from the periphery. Since the number of places
in university enrolment has not risen, the acceptance of one
out another population."
Arab lecturers say the wording refers to Arab students replacing
Jews. But the
universities deny any such intent.
"The psychometric tests are relevant to the whole population. They
are held in
six languages, including Arabic. The sections dealing with culture do
an inclination toward Jewish culture," said the association of Israeli
university heads. But the universities cannot explain why the number
students increased when tests were dropped.
Among those who question the claim is Hassan Jabareen, director of
Arab legal rights centre, Adalah.
"The whole system is sys tematically biased," he said. "Twenty years
ago I sat
one of these tests at Tel Aviv university. I was asked who Einstein
was. I said
he was the biggest scientist in the world. But they said no, we gave
first name. We are speaking of a singer from Tel Aviv."
The controversy has flared as Israel tries to head off a growing
of its universities by accusing those behind it of anti-Semitism or
Israel to a higher standard than other countries.
"It's ironic," said Prof Rouhana. "They [university presidents] don't
connection between the boycott and their actions."
UNIVERSITIES RETURN TO APTITUDE EXAMS TO KEEP ARABS OUT
Relly Sa'ar, Haaretz, 11/27/03
There's no politically correct spin to put on it,
and the facts speak for themselves: As soon as
Israel's top university administrators noticed
that the big winners from admissions policy
changes were not Jewish youngsters from low-income
towns, but rather Arabs, they reverted back to the
old admissions system.
This year, the universities
instituted a policy change -
the abandonment of
psychometric aptitude tests
as a requirement for
admissions. However, once
university officials realized
that the main beneficiaries
were Arabs, they decided to
reinstate the exams.
During the upcoming academic year, university
admission candidates will be judged according
to the old system, which is based on a
combination of high school matriculation exam
results and the psychometric tests. By
reinstating the old system, the universities
apparently intend to guard against high
enrollments of Arab students in selected
One of the country's universities studied the
results of this year's new admissions policies
- candidates had to submit their results from
various high school matriculation exams rather
than take the aptitude tests. However, the
university discovered that the new admissions
system benefits Arab candidates. For example,
the percentage of Arab students who were
supposed to be accepted to the university's
faculty of dental medicine under the new system
was 52 percent; in the previous academic year,
when psychometric results were part of the
admissions policy, Arab students comprised just
29 percent of the first-year class. The same
held true for the university's occupational
therapy department: under the new admissions
system, 56 percent of first-year students were
to be Arabs; under last year's old admissions
system, the figure was 19 percent.
To prevent a heavy influx of Arab students in
fields such as dental medicine and occupational
therapy, the university instituted what one
department head described as "revisions" in its
admissions policy. "We set the [minimum] entry
age for studies at 20, instead of 18, and we
also gave added weight to personal interviews
with candidates," the department head said in
describing the "revisions." The Arab candidates
do not serve in the Israel Defense Forces, so
the previous minimum entry age, 18, worked to
their advantage, while increasing the
importance of personal interviews worked to the
disadvantage of Arab candidates, partly because
the interviews are not conducted in their
native language. As a result, the "revisions"
helped the university departments maintain the
same Jewish-Arab demographics that had been
obtained in previous years.
The universities did little yesterday to conceal
the fact that admissions policies are being
altered to benefit Jewish candidates.
"Admissions policies based on [high school]
grades do not make studies more accessible to
[Jewish] students from the periphery. The
opposite is true," declared the committee of
university heads. In its statement, the
committee was careful not to use the words
"Jews" and "Arabs," but its intention was
clear. In a euphemistic idiom, it wrote: "since
the number of places available in university
enrollment has not risen, the acceptance of one
population [that is, the Arab students, R.S.]
nudges out another population [Jews, R.S.]"
Based on cold statistics, it remains unclear
how this year's new admissions policy, which
took into account matriculation exam results,
unwittingly instituted an affirmative action
program for Arab youth. For years, the Arab
secondary school system has notched poor
matriculation exam results due to chronic
discrimination in budget fund allocations.
Two weeks ago, the heads of the universities
worked out an arrangement with Education
Minister Limor Livnat and Knesset Education and
Culture Committee Chairman MK Ilan Shalgi
(Shinui) whereby the system of considering
matriculation exam results in lieu of
psychometric exams is to be "suspended for one
year" rather than be scrapped permanently. At
the end of the current academic year, the
universities are to submit to the Knesset
committee empirical research studies that
address the correlation between academic
performance in higher education and
psychometric exam or matriculation test
success. Since the universities vehemently
opposed adoption of the system used this year
and claimed that psychometric exam results are
the most reliable indicator of success in
higher education settings, it can be expected
that the research will point to the need for
reinstating the psychometric tests as an
important factor in admissions decisions.
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