Question of Palestine home || Permalink || About UNISPAL || Search

Follow UNISPAL RSS Twitter

Source: United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)
25 April 1994

United Nations Educational,
Scientific and Cultural Organization
Executive Board

Hundred and forty-fourth Session

144 EX/7 Add.
PARIS, 25 April 1994
Original: English

Item 4.2.1 of the provisional agenda



In this Addendum, the Director-General informs the Executive Board about the UNESCO mission on higher education in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, outlining the main findings and recommendations of the mission and the project proposals it has submitted for strengthening Palestinian higher education.


By 141 EX/Decision 5.2.1, the Executive Board, reaffirming the previous decisions and resolutions of UNESCO concerning educational and cultural institutions in the occupied Arab territories, invited the Director-General inter alia ‘to conduct a study to assess academic standards in Palestinian universities in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip’.

Furthermore, the General Conference, at its twenty-seventh session, adopted resolution 18, requesting the Director-General inter alia to draw up, in consultation with the relevant Palestinian authorities, with the international financing organizations concerned and with the bodies and funds set up for the economic and social development of the Palestinian territories, a comprehensive plan including short-, medium- and long-term targets with the main objective contributing to the Palestinian educational and cultural system. The resolution further invites the Director-General to pay closest attention to the problems concerning:
In compliance with the above-mentioned resolution of the General Conference and decision of the Executive Board, a high level mission on higher education in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip was organized by UNESCO in co-operation with the Palestinian Council of Higher Education, from 4 to 14 January 1994. The mission team included five consultants (Dr Donald Glower, former Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Ohio State University, Dr Jack Hollander, Professor Emeritus of Energy and Resources, University of California, Berkeley, Dr Edward Jennings, President Emeritus and Professor of Finance, Ohio State University, Dr Subhi Qasem, Director, Office for Integrated Agricultural Development, Amman, Jordan and Professor Luigi Berlinguer, Rector of the University of Sienna, Italy, who joined the mission on 9 January 1994). Three UNESCO staff members were also part of the mission team: Mr Dumitru Chitoran, Chief of the Higher Education Section; Mr Bikas Sanyal, Senior Programme Specialist, the International Institute of Educational Planning; Mr F.H. Verhoog, Chief, Unit for Operational Activities in the Science Sector.

The terms of reference of the mission were: ‘to undertake a review of the present situation of higher education, in particular of the Palestinian universities, with emphasis on the science and technology component. The mission will assess the strengths and weaknesses of the higher education institutions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and will look, in particular, into the following: adequacy of human resources, programmes and curricula, institutional services including libraries, special service units, training facilities, financial sources and sustainability, institutional framework and external linkages and formulate recommendations thereupon’.

Main findings of the mission

The following is a summary of the main findings of the mission:

1. The 28 tertiary-level institutions represented in the Council for Higher Education (eight universities and 20 community colleges, of which nine are directly administered by the Council, four are run by UNRWA, four by the Israeli Government and three are private-proprietary type institutions) demonstrate the great efforts made by the Palestinians to provide for higher level learning and training under very difficult circumstances. The large majority of institutions (including all the universities) were established after 1967, upon the initiative of private sector groups and individuals, including members of the Palestinian Diaspora.

2. The staff are generally well trained academically, holding diplomas of universities in the United States, Europe and the Arab region. Student enrolment at the eight universities, for the academic year 1993-1994 is of 22,500 students at BA and BSc level, and 225 at MSc level. A number of 6,642 students attend the technical and community colleges. At the same time a considerable number of young Palestinians pursue higher education studies outside the occupied territories.

3. The institutions are evenly distributed over the occupied territories. With regard to facilities (buildings, space for expansion, laboratories, workshops, libraries, maintenance facilities, etc.) the institutions differ considerably, but at least some of them have the conditions for ensuring normal functioning for enrolments, at current, or even at a slightly increased level.

4. The mission was highly appreciative of the remarkable achievements in the field of tertiary education in the occupied territories. Its attention, however, was focused on the difficulties encountered by the tertiary-level institutions in the West Bank and Gaza. All the institutions are facing severe financial problems, a situation which has been deteriorating constantly since the Gulf War. The Palestinians cannot sustain the current system, let alone strengthen and, in certain areas, expand it where the needs are obvious, with their resources only. International assistance is absolutely necessary.

5. The mission emphasizes that for a variety of reasons - economic, social, educational, cultural and, not in the least, political - a viable, efficient and high-quality system of tertiary education which is well tuned to the realities and needs of the Palestinian people and highly competitive on the regional and international scene constitutes one of the priorities for ensuring the success of the peace process and for attaining self rule by the Palestinians. Natural resources in the occupied territories are limited. High-level training and expertise in a variety of fields - to be attained through education at the highest level - is, consequently, a priority.

Issues and recommendations

In light of the above findings the mission raises the following issues and outlines the following recommendations with regard to higher education which need to be addressed by the transitional authority to be established as part of the peace process, by the local communities and by the Palestinian institutions of higher education themselves. The mission underlines the need for urgent assistance by the international community for their implementation and makes a strong appeal for concertation and co-ordination of efforts in this respect among the international donor community.

Policy and strategy for the development of higher education

(a) Education in general and tertiary education in particular are called upon to play a major role in advancing the peace process. Daily events, since the signature of the Washington agreement, indicate that there are many obstacles to overcome and that there are forces opposed to it. Visible, tangible immediate results are needed in order to gain confidence in the process. Higher education is one area in which such immediate results can be achieved through the combined effort of the authorities, the local communities and the international community. It is therefore of utmost importance in the short run to ensure the full operationality of the existing institutions, to improve the quality of teaching and learning they provide and to set their management on a course which should enhance their sustainability.

(b) A strong case must be made to the international community to attach due attention to tertiary education in its commitment of support to the Palestinian people to ensure self-governance.

(c) The institutional framework required in order to transfer authority for education to Palestinian administration must be created. One of its first tasks should be to develop a clear policy and strategy with regard to (higher) education in Palestine and to proceed, in broad consultation with all interested stakeholders (society and political leaders, representatives of the local communities, Palestinian intellectuals in the occupied territories and abroad etc.), to the legislative reform and restructuring of the current institutions with a view to integrating them into a coherent national system of higher education, thus maximizing complementarity of programmes and minimizing current duplications and imbalances.

(d) In better tuning tertiary education to the needs for development of an independent Palestine, it is necessary to correct, through appropriate measures, the imbalance between enrolments in universities and in the technical and community colleges. A review and overhaul of vocational and technical education and training at all levels is needed in order to establish this kind of education firmly in the system.

(e) Postgraduate studies and research are offered at two universities. They are at an initial stage and pursued by a very limited number of students (1 per cent of total enrolments). The mission team recommends gradual development of such studies in carefully selected fields and reinforcement of research, with due attention to be paid to ensure quality and viability.

Quality and relevance

(f) Raising the qualitative standards of tertiary education is a general need which requires concrete, specific steps to be taken, both at the national level and at the level of each institution. It concerns programmes and curricula, staff development, adequate admission policies, the development of research and of graduate studies in appropriate fields, etc. The search for quality acquires importance also in view of the responsibility which the universities have towards the other levels of education, particularly with regard to teacher training.

(g) A careful study of the needs for the immediate and future economic development of Palestine should be undertaken in order to ascertain the ways in which education and training can respond to them. Construction, services in the broad sense of the term, etc., are examples of fields in which economic activity in Palestine will need human resources at various levels of training and skills. A particularly promising area which can create many jobs and earn foreign currency is tourism. The development of, in this case in particular, cultural and religious tourism requires a very diversified set of knowledge and skills, from the preservation of monuments to food technology, from the production of souvenirs to hotel management and from medical care to the knowledge of other religions. The system of community colleges is very suitable for the necessary specialized tourism education and training. A special study for the education and training needs for tourism related occupations is recommended by the mission.

Role of international links and of international assistance

(h) In reaching the goals mentioned above, regional and international linkages and co-operation are of particular importance. The international academic community has, on various occasions and in various ways, expressed its solidarity with and willingness to support higher education institutions in Palestine. International co-operation is essential in the efforts to raise quality, particularly with regard to research and postgraduate studies, to ensure institutional and staff development and to meet certain immediate needs with regard to library and laboratory facilities. Its beneficial role however, goes much beyond, as a means to international opening up, to overcome past isolation and to remove entrenched tensions and animosities, thus making a crucial contribution to the peace process in the region. Palestinian academics abroad should also be involved in this co-operative effort, and their return, on a permanent or a temporary basis, should be encouraged and facilitated.

Financial resources

(i) The growth of the number of colleges and universities and the available finances are not in balance at present. The country will not be able, for at least the next five years, to finance a higher education system that is necessary for a country without natural resources, that must count on the quality of its human resources in achieving prosperity for its people and on the ability to compete in the world economy. An estimated $50 million are needed per year, over a period of five years to cover operational costs and capital investments and to launch a number of specific projects.

A donor conference could be organized jointly by UNESCO, the major donor United Nations system organizations, the European Union, the Arab Fund for Social and Economic Development, etc., with the advice of the Palestinian territories, including the Council for Higher Education.

(j) While the most important problem is the overall financing of the whole tertiary education system within a coherent framework that will be financially sustainable, there are immediate needs that can make a difference in the quality of the graduates delivered by the system.

The priority areas for which immediate action is needed include:
Project proposals

The mission elaborated a number of project proposals aimed at securing the implementation of the recommendations listed above by the authorities in charge of higher education and the Palestinian institutions, with the support of the international community and in co-operation with IGOs, NGOs and higher education institutions in various parts of the world.

A first project aims at providing assistance to the new transition authority to create the legal and institutional framework for the transfer of educational responsibilities in the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestinian administration. Budgeted at US $120,000, it foresees the training of experts in educational legislation, planning, management and governance of higher education and the launching of a broadly based national debate on the strategy for the future development of higher education in Palestine.

A second project is aimed at reviewing technical education and training at all levels in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with a view to redress the current imbalance between technical and university education and to establish technical education and training firmly in the education system as a necessary step to render society friendly to industrial investment. Budgeted at US $250,000, the project foresees consultancies, background studies, the elaboration of a technical education and development plan and the organization of a conference for a broad public review and discussion of the plan.

A third project addresses the key issue of securing adequate funding for higher education in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the period 1994-1998. It is estimated that, by 1998, an annual operational budget of around US $50 million will be needed for tertiary education in the - West Bank and Gaza Strip. Capital investment needs are estimated at around US $50 million for the whole 1994-1998 period. The project foresees the organization of a Donors’ Conference by UNESCO, the World Bank, UNDP, the European Union, the Arab Fund for Social and Economic Development and other multilateral and bilateral donor agencies and foundations which will examine concrete financing schemes through international assistance. The needs for international assistance, to be further spelled out by the Council for Higher Education, are estimated at around US $25 million annually, namely to support the operational budget and to adopt the corrective measures needed to strengthen the quality and relevance of Palestinian higher education.

A fourth project is aimed at securing emergency support for upgrading laboratories and workshops of colleges and universities. Estimated at US $500,000 over the 1994-1996 period, the project foresees the procurement, delivery and installation of laboratories and workshops, the provision of materials and consumables and the training of technicians and other categories of personnel. Special attention will be given to such needs in the Gaza Strip as a first priority.

A fifth project addresses the key issue of the role of regional and international university co-operation in enhancing the quality of teaching and research in Palestinian higher education institutions.

The peace process in the Middle East has the strong support of the international academic community, as exemplified by the PEACE programme, launched in 1991, by a group of European universities, members of the Coimbra Group, with the support of UNESCO and the EEC. The signing of the Washington Declaration of principles has opened up new prospects for international co-operation and solidarity with Palestinian higher education institutions. Subregional, regional and international linkages are called upon to play a major role in meeting both the immediate and the medium- and long-term needs of higher education in Palestine. This refers to overall issues concerning quality in the first place. Also, institutional and staff development can best be ensured through durable links established with universities in other countries. Special mention should be made of the beneficial role of international co-operation as a means to overcome past isolation, long entrenched animosities, and intolerance, thus making a crucial contribution to the peace progress.

The proposed project, with an estimated budget of US $1,310,000, is multipronged, including the following major activities:

A sixth project addresses the urgent need for the provision of books, teaching materials and aids, scientific periodicals and access to scientific research data, given the dramatic situation in this respect in practically all higher education institutions in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The mission report, which is available to the members of the Executive Board upon request, will be distributed to the potential donors and to all UNESCO’s partners in an effort to support higher education in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It is also meant to serve as an input document for the Donors’ Conference for Palestinian Higher Education and to the International Conference on Academic Solidarity with Palestinian Higher Education.

Follow UNISPAL RSS Twitter