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Tel Aviv University wants to keep its dental medicine school open, but it needs some NIS 8 million from the Treasury to help cover the deficit, TAU director-general Motti Cohen told the Knesset Education Committee on Wednesday.
Because teaching dental students and the equipment used are so expensive, the school - one of only two in the country - has suffered from a deficit for years and considered closure.
The school's deficit is currently NIS 12 million, Cohen said, but if the university does not receive any state subsidy, it will rise even more.
TAU has an operational deficit itself and cannot bear any more financial burdens, he added. It is asking for approval of funds from the Education Ministry's planning and budgeting committee.
Dental students and faculty have been demonstrating in protest against the possible shutdown of the school.
The country's only other dental school is 56 years old and belongs to the Hebrew University and the Hadassah Medical Organization and is larger and more veteran. The dental school in Jerusalem annually admits about 65 students out of 1,000 applicants. Because many of Israel's working dentists are middle-aged, a shortage - including one of dental specialists - is on the horizon, experts insist.
In addition, many younger dentists are women who work only part time so they can take care of their families. TAU's dental school is also used by hundreds of needy families for cheaper treatment, as dental graduate students and senior undergraduates treat them under supervision.
TAU dental students fear the university may raise expenses to a level they can't afford. Although tuition is currently the same for all undergraduate students in Israeli universities, whatever the department or school, dental students are required to pay some of the costs for equipment.
If there is no dental school in Tel Aviv, many of its students and those who want to enroll could leave the country to attend dental schools in Eastern Europe that charge lower tuition and teach at a lower level. Dental school staff said there had been several cases of dental schools in European countries closing down, forcing the countries to import dentists from abroad. It costs about $40,000 a year to teach a dental student during his or her years of clinical training in Israel.