Expectations Versus Reality: Identifying Challenges for University Students in Palestine

International Intern, Claire leads a professional development workshop for Palestinian youth. Last week in the TYO blog, I described the lack of preparedness that many Palestinian university students feel when they enter the labor market. This week, I asked current students at An-Najah University and recent graduates to identify what they believed were the greatest challenges they faced while attending university. Overwhelmingly, students identified a gap that exists between the expectations given to them by professors and the reality of what they are able to accomplish given the socioeconomic and political environment in which they live.

One of my volunteers and my translator, Amani, wants to be an English teacher in Palestine. In order to gain her qualifications, Amani’s university required a one-year practicum in teaching English. However, no school that Amani approached was willing to host her so that she could accomplish her training. Rather, the schools told her that they would sign the necessary documents that indicated that she had successfully completed her practicum when, in reality, she gained no experience. The reason for the schools’ refusals was that they were under pressure to implement a mandated curriculum, and they lacked the time and resources necessary to accommodate Amani. The immediate outcome of this gap is that Amani was not prepared or qualified to teach English upon graduation, and she had to seek additional qualifications after obtaining her degree. Amani’s experience is not an exceptional case, and it gives insight into the high rate of unemployment for university graduates. The financial constraints on graduates prevent many from seeking this additional, necessary training after having to bear the burden of high tuition fees for their education.

The financial limitations under which Palestinian schools and universities operate lead to a deprivation of resources for their students. Due to funding shortages, An-Najah University has increased the number of registered students to financially support itself. Consequently, class sizes have grown and the quality of education suffers because students receive less individual attention. In our leadership course at An-Najah, I’ve witnessed how the class size inhibits a student’s capacity and motivation to reach his or her academic potential. The course typically has between 100 and 150 students, and when we have large group discussions, I can tell that students struggle to pay attention and understand the material, especially because we lead the class in English. When we work in small groups, however, I am consistently impressed by the students’ self-confidence in sharing their ideas and expressing themselves in English. Small class size is conducive to developing soft-skills such as confidence, teamwork, and leadership that are necessary to be a competitive candidate for employment.

Additionally, students told me that university courses do not train students for the hard-skills that employers in Palestine require. The students I spoke with especially emphasized the lack of training in English and IT. Apparently, all exams at An-Najah University are conducted in English, unless the exams are specifically for Arabic studies. Students struggle to succeed because even if they are knowledgeable about the material, they cannot communicate in English to demonstrate this knowledge. Additional courses in English and IT will not only make students more competitive to enter the labor market in Palestine, but these are also necessary skills to increase graduates’ access to the global job market. The most recent World Bank report on the Palestinian economy highlights how the Palestinian market has become increasingly fragmented, creating uncertainty and lower economic productivity. The restrictions on the movement of people and goods created by the occupation are overwhelming obstacles for Palestinian university graduates seeking employment. Universities need to focus on training such as IT and English so that graduates may have increased access to a larger labor market and, subsequently, a greater chance of success. The economic state of Palestine is a reality that students must face upon graduation, but it is not one that should deter them from pursuing their personal and professional goals.

-Claire is a Fall 2014 International Intern at TYO

This program is funded by the Abdul Hameed Shoman Foundation (AHSF).