Rassas finished high school in Jerusalem in 1988 and had her choice of scholarships in Russia, Israel or France. She chose to take the French government’s offer of a full scholarship to study for a bachelor’s degree in optometry at the Sorbonne, the University of Paris.
She returned to Jerusalem in 1992 and worked at Jerusalem hospitals and the Palestinian Relief Organisation. “I was the only daughter among four male siblings, so I chose to return as soon as I got my bachelor’s degree,” she said.
During this period, she also married and had four children, but she never lost her dream of postgraduate study. Scholarships allowed her to pursue a master’s degree in South Africa, followed by a Ph.D. in the United Kingdom, in optometry and visual science.
On her return to Palestine in 2004, she founded the territories’ first Faculty of Optometry, at An-Najah National University.
Building International Connections
In 2007, Rassas became vice president for international and external relations at An-Najah and established an international scholarship office. She also began working to obtain international recognition of An-Najah’s study programmes, which remains a major concern of for her.
International recognition of the university’s degrees allows students to complete their graduate studies anywhere, she said.
Over the past 15 years, Rassas has organised about 300 scholarships for university students to obtain master’s and doctoral degrees abroad.
“We open the way to the gifted, even from other universities, provided they return to teach at our university,” she said. “We have distinguished researchers in scientific fields, such as medicine, science, engineering and the environment, and we are networking them with researchers from other universities to obtain appropriate funding.”
Rassas added that the university also encouraged graduates to work in applied research fields that generate financial returns through foreign partnerships. This in turn contributes to the commercialisation of research by linking it to industry.
Obstacles Hinder Research Funding
The average spending of Arab countries on research in 2018 was between 0.5 and 1 percent of gross domestic product, Rassas said, citing World Bank statistics.