Einstien statue Hebrew University.
(photo credit: HEBREW UNIVERSITY)
The Committee of University Heads, Committee of College Heads, and the National Union of Israeli Students letters to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, and MKs on Wednesday, calling on them to prevent the budget cuts to institutions of higher learning.
"We were shocked to hear the announcement of an expected NIS 263 million cut to the budget for institutions of higher learning in the upcoming budget," read the letter from the NUIS to the MKs.
"Even more outrageous is the fact that the decision did not result from current pressing matters to Israeli society, rather purely from coalition considerations and the scandalous decision by the Israeli government to approve lateral budget cuts of three percent in the state budget," the letter went on to accuse.
The letter from the Committee of University Heads to Netanyahu, Kahlon, and Bennett said that "if it is approved, this is the highest cut ever planned for the higher education system in the past ten years, and the result of this decision will be extremely devastating."
The committee warned that the cuts would lead to a decrease in academic research in Israel, a decrease in the quality of teaching, a decrease in the ability of research institutes in Israel to compete with world academia, a cessation of the program to absorb scientists returning from abroad, and would harm the institutions themselves and the tens of thousands of faculty members and administrative workers in dozens of institutions across the country.
"In a time when we all take pride in labeling Israel as a 'start-up nation,' in the number of Israeli Nobel Prize winners, and in the general achievements of Israeli research – we, the presidents of the universities, are concerned about our ability to open the upcoming academic year, if the planned cuts will indeed be enacted," read the letter.
The committee went on to explain that the institutions are only starting to recover from "the lost decade," of higher education, 10 years during which there were annual budget cuts that the universities called "deadly."
The Committee of College Heads also spoke about their work in the periphery and in expanding their programs to become accessible to the Arab and ultra-Orthodox sectors, and the costs involved in these programs.
"I was astonished to discover that the Finance Ministry wants to cut over a quarter of a billion shekels from the budget for higher education. This, after the cut of NIS 175 million just last year," said Bennett in response to the letters he received on Wednesday.
"It is very simple. One lost decade in academia was enough for us. I will not let this happen on my watch again. Nobel Prize winners will not come from watching [the] 'Big Brother' [reality television show]. They will come from a tremendous investment in higher education, in research, in laboratories, and in teaching. We cannot take care of early childhood [education] with one hand and with the other hand take away from higher education. These are the same children," Bennett added.
The Finance Ministry responded:
"The 2016 budget has a gap between government revenues and anticipated expenditure, therefore it requires lateral efficiency measures in all government ministries in order to reduce government spending so it fits the given budgetary framework.
"In this context, the Finance Ministry's budget department left the authority in the hands of the ministries of decide where to make cuts and each ministry must exercise their professional discretion in accordance with the priorities of the ministry."
The ministry went on to explain that the base budget of higher education is about nine billion shekels. Since 2011, the budget for higher education has increased by some two billion shekels, which the Finance Ministry said "is a significant increase that ensures the economic strength of the system."
"In practice," concluded the Finance Ministry, "one can see that this is not a cut, but a reduction in the planned additions [to the budget], and certainly when compared to the increase in the budget in recent years, no material harm to higher education is expected."
According to the Finance Ministry, funding for higher education has risen from NIS 6.1 billion in 2008, to NIS 7.6 billion in 2011, to NIS 9.2 billion in 2014.