HEBRON—Deteriorating economic conditions and internecine politics are preventing a majority of master’s degree students in the Gaza Strip from completing their programs, and the situation has significantly worsened over the past academic year, a recent study showed.
In 2019, more than two-thirds of students in programs beyond the bachelor’s degree level could not pay or could only partially pay their tuition, leading to a 70 percent dropout rate that year, according to a 2020 study by Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights, based in Gaza. The dropout rate for the prior year was 40 percent, according to the Ministry of Education and Higher Education in Gaza.
The situation is only apt to get worse with the first two cases of the novel coronavirus being reported in the Gaza Strip, and authorities closing restaurants and shops and halting Friday prayers in mosques. Israeli authorities closed the border with Gaza, blocking even those Palestinians dependent on getting into Israel for work from entering, and humanitarian workers trying to enter Gaza complain of a byzantine process to win entry permits. Gaza’s under-resourced healthcare system is regarded as ill-equipped to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.
In Gaza City, Moath Al-Kahlout, 29, is among the students who couldn’t pay their tuition or finish their degrees even before the pandemic struck. Al-Kahlout enrolled in a two-year master’s degree program in business at the Islamic University of Gaza in 2015 with high hopes for his future. Five years later, those have dreams died, he says.
“After years of being unemployed, I enrolled in the M.A. program in order to find a job. I ended up neither completing my degree nor finding a job,” said Al-Kahlout. “Without any support or encouragement to complete our course of study, it’s almost like higher education is considered an accessory, an extra.”
Pay Cuts and War
The problems for students in the Gaza Strip stem in part from the conflict between the Palestinian political parties Fatah and Hamas. After its victory in the 2006 legislative elections, Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 and started setting up its own government agencies, including a Ministry of Education and Higher Education. But government employees, including those at universities, continued receiving their salaries from the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, where Fatah is the dominant party. (See a related article, “For Gaza’s Besieged Universities, Reform Is Low on the Agenda.”)