Software engineering students Marial Basil, 20, and Marian Abedrabbo, 20, pose with accounting student Francis Rahil, 19, at Bethlehem University in the West Bank, June 9, 2021. CNS photo/Debbie Hill

Bethlehem looks to expand economy beyond tourism

By  Judith Sudilovsky, Catholic News Service
  • June 25, 2021

BETHLEHEM, West Bank -- Graduating in July as part of Bethlehem University’s first software engineering class, students Marianna Bannoura, Oriana Sabat and Mariam Qumsieh already have a market-ready app under their belts.

They hope to be part of a growing trend that sees technology helping the fragile Bethlehem economy, which has long depended on tourism, to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bethlehem University is the first Palestinian higher education institution to offer a degree program in software engineering.

“Software engineering is the future,” Bannoura, 22, told Catholic News Service. “It is very important for Bethlehem University to open and continue with this program. With the coronavirus everyone stopped working except for software engineers who continued to work online.

“It is 2021 now, everyone is into technology and we have to keep up.”

The university will be looking to acquire her team’s “BUAPI” mobile app portal, which has combined the university’s two websites to allow students easy access to information about the school. The women presented the app for their final project and once they tweak it a bit, it will be ready for widespread use.

Prior to the pandemic university officials were looking to revamp its curriculum to better meet the needs of the Palestinian community, said LaSallian Brother Peter Bray, university vice chancellor.

“We are looking at better ways to be doing our mission to serve the Palestinian people with education,” he said. “We are trying to create programs which will be of value to Palestinian students.”

The university also began a master of arts program in governance and public administration, said Fadi Kattan, business administration dean, who oversees the program. The track is part of an initiative to serve the business community, he explained.

“We are working to develop a sustainable (business) system for Palestine. Even if we improve the life of every business here it will do no good if there is not a general system for the country where everybody is working together including businesses, government and NGOs,” Kattan said.

Bray said many of the university’s graduates migrate to the business and financial center in the West Bank city of Ramallah or go abroad, but the hope is that students with degrees will have more opportunities to remain in Bethlehem.

“One of our interests is to help develop the economy here,” he said.

“Our economy in Bethlehem is based on tourism,” said graduating software engineer student Nicola Zreineh, 22. “Now we are going to mix things up with the technology world. It will make a big difference in Bethlehem because there are not a lot of technology and software development companies in Bethlehem. So I think we will be one of the first companies and we will be the ones to lead the way.”

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