Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Palestinian Authority Moves to Modernize Higher Education

August 31, 2010

By Matthew Kalman

Ramallah, West Bank

Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, said Monday that his government wants to expand access to higher education as it enters the second and final year of its plan to prepare Palestinians for independent statehood.

As part of a sweeping modernization of the education system, Mr. Fayyad pledged $55-million to provide loans and grants for needy higher-education students, among others, and promised a new system of tuition reductions for students in medicine, science, and technical specialties, along with other financing reforms.

"We need stronger institutions both to expedite the end of the occupation and to secure the long-term future of a unified and democratic State of Palestine," Mr. Fayyad told reporters here, identifying higher education as one of "four priority areas of state-building."

Mr. Fayyad said the government's modernization of the education system would be guided by "a strategic national vision to prepare future generations with the knowledge, expertise, and skills to drive progress and prosperity in Palestine."

He spoke on the eve of a Washington dinner marking the first direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians in 20 months. He said his reform agenda was designed to ready his people for statehood so they could take the reins of power the moment a peace deal was signed.

In a speech earlier this month, Mr. Fayyad emphasized the importance of education in combating fanaticism, promoting culture, and developing analytical capabilities in Palestinian society. In a 50-page document titled "Homestretch to Freedom" that sets out his priorities for the coming year, Mr. Fayyad says the mission of his government is to "transform the higher-education sector in Palestine, rejuvenating its reputation, and its international and regional competitiveness" and "align the higher-education system and its outputs with the needs of a progressive and developing society."

Scholarships totaling $1.5-million will be earmarked for 1,200 outstanding students, with an additional $10-million in loans and $4-million in grants for needy students. A total of $40-million will be provided to universities.

Enrollment of students with special needs, such as those with physical and mental disabilities, will be increased by 20 percent through the allocation of additional financial support. Additional grants and tuition assistance will be offered to those who enroll in science, medicine, and technology courses. The government will survey the state of scientific research at Palestinian universities, and colleges will be encouraged to participate in regional scientific-research networks.

The government also plans to develop five international programs with overseas universities and improve quality control across the higher-education system.

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