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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Immigrant students studying at the Hebrew University got a rude surprise at the start of the new year when many discovered that their access to the library and personal information on the Internet were blocked by the university.
"With exams coming up and without access to the library I'm screwed," complained Shmuel Yonah, an oleh from Toronto who studies biology at the Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus.
"We're stressed enough as it is. This isn't our fault," Yonah said.
The problem is apparently due to a change in the payment policies of the Immigrant Absorption Ministry's Student Authority.
The authority finances the immigrant students' studies by paying the tuition fees directly to the university.
According to the students, and confirmed to The Jerusalem Post by senior ministry officials, the problem arose when the Student Authority switched from an annual payment schedule to a semesterial one.
When the university stopped receiving the payment for second semester's studies at the beginning of the academic year, it demanded that the students submit a standing order for payment that would allow the university to withdraw funds directly from the students' bank accounts if they fail to pay the second semester's tuition.
According to Yonah, who Hebraicized his name upon aliya from Shawn Taub, "the university says they're taking precautionary measures."
But, he added, "most [students] don't [sign a standing order] because they don't like giving the university access to their funds. These students shouldn't be paying a penny to the university," he maintained.
In his case, Yonah said, university officials told him explicitly that "I had to sign up for the standing order or they couldn't give me access to certain things in the school," including library lending services and online personal information.
Some 100 students were reportedly affected by the payment schedule change.
One senior Immigrant Absorption Ministry official familiar with the situation told the Post on Thursday that the students' complaints were accurate. But, he added, the university was well within its rights to ask for "a [financial] guarantee [from the immigrant students] that every other student is required to give."
"We have an agreement with the Hebrew University that no student will be blocked," he added, but this agreement did not apply to a situation in which the students failed to meet the university's demands for financial guarantees.
If an immigrant student is blocked once he submits the required guarantees, then the problem must be individual, he maintained. "If there's a student who was blocked [without due cause]," he said, "I promise to take care of him personally."
A Hebrew University spokesperson likewise told the Post that there was "no problem with the authority" or with its payment schedules. Only "a student who's in debt to the university is blocked," the spokesperson said. "This isn't new."
For Yonah, the main problem is timing. Students who were blocked, he noted, "can't get books from the library or access their exam schedules [online] just before [end-of-semester] exams." For his part, he added, he's already signed the bank on a standing payment order and expected to present it to the university next week.