President Shimon Peres, marking the start of the new academic year yesterday, called for free education for every Israeli college and university student striving for a first degree.

Peres spoke in Tel Aviv at the Levinsky College of Education, the first Hebrew Teacher’s College in Israel, which is celebrating its centenary.

The college was founded in 1912 by members of the Hovevei Zion Movement, and its name perpetuates that of writer, journalist and leading Zionist activist Elhanan Leib Lewinsky. It was the first academic institution in the country to train teachers in Hebrew, though a similar claim is made by the David Yellin College of Education in Jerusalem, which is also celebrating its centenary.

Equal opportunities for higher education toward a first degree must be made available to all students, said Peres, who emphasized the need for greater investment in education not only as a social need but as an existential necessity.

Israel as a small country without natural resources, faces major challenges in competing with other countries of the world, he said. For this reason, it is essential that the population be well educated so that its collective brainpower can be harnessed for the benefit of the state. “Our human resources must be given the chance to reach the highest levels in all domains,” he said.

Capped and gowned, Peres mounted the stage to receive an honorary teaching degree, at a special opening ceremony for the academic year from College President Prof. Lea Kasen Levinsky.

The college is organizing another prestigious centenary event for December when it will host an international conference on One Hundred Years of Discourse, Innovation and Research in Education, Teacher Education and Music. The conference is scheduled for December 10 to 12 at the Dan Panorama Hotel in Tel Aviv.

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