By Shahd Safi
From the 1948 Nakba, the Naksa of 1967 to now, many Palestinians have been forced to live as refugees, facing dire social and financial difficulties. Education is their only hope for survival.
But so many families can’t afford the expenses associated with college and university.
The most recent research from The Borgen Project in 2018 shows that just 13 percent of Palestinian students achieve a Bachelor’s degree, with only 11 percent aged 18 years or older attending higher education.
As the economic situation deteriorates, it’s fair to assume these figures will only get worse.
It’s a new morning, but a very ordinary one for Myssa Al Zaq, mother of four. As her son sleeps beside her, it’s usually the time she thinks about her children’s future before she gets up, feeds them and sends them to school.
Eight years ago, Myssa was trying desperately to find a way to cover her tuition debt – 1300 Jordanian Dinars – ($1834).
Right after Myssa finished Tawjihi, the last year of high school in the Arab world, she enrolled in the nursing faculty at Al Azhar University. She was hoping to find a job and give her family a dignified life.
She finished her studies but never received her certificate because she couldn’t pay off her fees and couldn’t find a job as a result.
“My children are smart in school, they get very high grades, but so was I, and now you see my reality. I’m poor and unable to find a job. It’s like my worst nightmare is coming true and there’s nothing I can do to avoid it”, says Myssa. She finds it really challenging to cover her children’s needs.
Myssa’s husband, Maher, 35, can’t work due to an injury in his liver and despite that, he tried many times to find a job but failed. He studied accounting for one semester but couldn’t bear the financial cost.
“My family and I barely live. We only get our very basic needs met and that’s through our relatives’ help. In recent years, we started to get $100 from Qatar donations to help needy people in Gaza,” says Maher.
In 2013, Myssa managed to get a job for three months, earning 1300 Shekel a month at the Mercy Corps. She worked as a plastic dangers researcher, unrelated to her field study. Her role was to educate people on the dangers of plastic.
Much Like Myssa, Doaa Abu Telakh, 24, still hasn’t received her bachelor’s degree (BA) in geography in spite of completing the course at Al Aqsa University.
Her mother is unemployed and her father is a retired policeman. The Palestinian Authority has significantly cut his salary since 2018. He also pays off a loan, putting him under severe financial pressure. He has three daughters, including Doaa, and four brothers.
When Doaa was at university, she used to struggle with transportation fees and this affected her GPA as she missed many lectures.
She spent five years pursuing her four-year BA. In her third year of study, she didn’t take any university courses so her older sister could afford to finish her biology degree. Now, her older sister has finally graduated after six years.
Doaa needs to pay 850 Jordanian Dinars ($1198) to officially graduate and get her BA.
In the meantime, Doaa teaches two young students at her house, but that barely covers her needs as a single woman.
She tried to work in marketing, but that didn’t work out due to internet cuts and electricity shortages.
“My ultimate wish is to get a well-paid job that will help me pave my way in life. My greatest fear is waking up one day and regretting that I studied at university. I don’t want to be a pressure on my family anymore. I want to be able to help them,” she says.
Doaa’s brother, Omar, can’t enroll at university even though he passed Tawjihi. Their father, Khalid, is swamped with covering the basic needs of the big family, and thus he is unable to support his education.
Eman Rasheed, 22, shares the same fears as Doaa about her future. She is currently pursuing her fourth year of study, majoring in English literature, at Al Aqsa University. Eman comes from a rural area, Netsareem, where education is not seen as a main priority.
Her father used to be a farmer, but because of his old age, he can’t work anymore. He is unable to contribute to his daughter’s education.
Her mother hopes she has at least one educated daughter. Eman is the youngest of five and is the only sibling out of her three brothers and sister who is going to university.
The mother works as a knitter, which doesn’t pay well in Gaza. She can just manage to pay for her daughter’s transportation fees.
But her mother is falling into huge debt because of the tuition fees. Even though Eman gets a 50 percent discount from the university after they realized her situation. Eman and her mother still struggle to cover the other 50 percent, which is 100 Jordanian Dinars.
“I know life in Gaza is tough, but so is my daughter. She has always proved to me she’s strong and smart enough. She is strongly passionate and that’s why I think she’ll survive this situation. I’m very hopeful about her future,” says her mother.
But both mother and daughter are anxious she will graduate without being able to work and cover her debt.
“I might not get my certificate by the time I finish my study if there is any accumulated tuition that my mother is not able to cover,” says Eman.
Public and private institutions often face a severe shortage of funds. A detailed report on Higher Education in the Palestinian Territory highlights how colleges and universities are unable to offer quality education due to a lack of financing.
Amal Thabet, the executive coordinator of the social research department at Al Aqsa University, told the Palestine Chronicle that 10000 students at Al Aqsa University didn’t receive their certificates, as they have to cover the accumulated tuition.
She added there are many students who join the university as it’s the only governmental one in Gaza. Al Aqsa has 11000 students, and most are very extremely needy.
Despite the fact that Al Aqsa University offers its students discounts, they still struggle to cover all the accumulated fees. It’s quite a huge burden. Even the university itself struggles to pay its employees their salaries.