Birzeit University was initially established as a school in 1924 by Ms. Nabiha Nasir (1891– 1951), a member of a pioneering family of Palestinian educators. In 1953, it started offering first-year university courses in arts and sciences, in addition to a high school program. By 1961, Birzeit College was offering second-year university classes. The following year, associate degrees were granted for the two-year program enabling students to transfer to other universities in the Arab world and elsewhere to complete their bachelor’s degrees.
In 1967, the West Bank and Gaza Strip fell under Israeli military occupation, which resulted in travel restrictions imposed on Palestinians residing in these areas. As a result, students were less able to travel to neighboring Arab countries to continue their education. This new political environment prompted Birzeit to gradually eliminate its high school program and concentrate on a higher education. By 1972, the college began a four-year program leading to bachelor’s degrees awarded from the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Sciences.
In 1975, the name, Birzeit University was officially adopted, and Birzeit became the first Arab university to be established in Palestine. The first graduation ceremony was held on July 11, 1976. In 1978, the Faculties of Commerce and Economics were established, followed by the Faculty of Engineering a year later. The university began to offer graduate programs in 1977. In 1996, the Faculty of Graduate Studies was formally established.
In 1973, just as Birzeit’s development into a full-fledged university approached completion, Israel closed the campus by military order for two weeks. This was the first of many repressive measures against the university community. Less than a year later, the Israeli military authorities deported the university president, Dr. Hanna Nasir, who remained in exile for nineteen years. From 1979-1992, the university was closed by the Israeli occupation authorities several times. For the fifteenth and final time, the Israeli military closed the university from January 8, 1988 to April 29, 1992, as was the case with all Palestinian institutions of higher education. During this prolonged period of closure, the university continued to operate underground with small study groups in makeshift arrangements outside the campus. Under such conditions, many students took more than the usual time to graduate.
Today, Birzeit University is a thriving institution, with more than 900 faculty and staff members and around 10,103 students, of which 64 percent are female (6,497 students) and 36 percent are male (3,606 students), coming from all regions of the West Bank. The university is located on the outskirts of the town of Birzeit, 10 kilometers north of Ramallah and 26 kilometers north of Jerusalem. Committed to firm principles of academic freedom, the university aims to prepare the young Palestinian generation to become responsible leaders and citizens. As it encourages its students along the path of academic excellence, it also emphasizes the need for social awareness and national commitment.