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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson decided on Sunday afternoon to reallocate NIS 140 million to academic institutions, following threats from university heads earlier Sunday morning that they would postpone the opening of the school year if they did not receive the NIS 170 million that was slashed from the 2006 national budget.
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The university representatives were also demanding that a framework be put in place to return a sum of NIS one billion to the universities, which was cut over a five-year period.
In an emergency meeting between Hirchson, Education Minister Yuli Tamir, and university heads, the decision was also made to set up a joint committee, headed by former minister Avraham Shohat, which would outline possible reforms in the academic system for higher learning.
The committee is expected to tackle the issue of raising tuition by more than NIS 2,000, while offering long-term student loans. Furthermore, the committee will examine the implementation of differential salaries for academic staff at the universities.
The last-minute compromise will allow a million Israeli students to start the academic year next week as planned.
The Council of Higher Learning speculates that, continuing the trend of the last few years, the country's colleges will enjoy an increase in registration this year, while the universities will suffer a decline.
While last year the number of students applying to universities surpassed the colleges by some 16,000, in the coming year, the difference will stand at only about 12,000, with a decrease of 1.3% in university registration and a rise of 5.3% in college registration.
The one exception appears to be the Open University, which has 39,500 students registered for the coming year, as opposed to 38,670 last year - an increase of 2.1%.
This year, the number of students going for their bachelors and masters degrees has risen by 1.3% since last year, and the number of doctoral students has grown by 3.7%.
Data from the Council of Higher Education on popular fields of study in recent years shows a decline in the number of students applying for mathematics and computer science - from a 2000/1 peak of 3,650 to 1,950 in 2004/5. The statistic is indicative of the dramatic changes in the high-tech industry. While the economy seems to be showing signs that the high-tech crisis is over, the tidings have yet to affect registration numbers in those fields.
The number of students applying to medicine as a first choice in 2004/5 was some 1,700, similar to the numbers for 2003/4. A dramatic decline of some 550 in the number of applicants for paramedical professions was noted in 2004/5, down from a record 4,500 in 2003/4. The number of law school applicants sank to 2,200 in 2004/5, some 200 fewer than in 2003/4.
Recent years have shown a marked increase in the number of BA students in biotechnology-related fields. The number of first-year students in these fields more than doubled in the years from 1995 to 2002/3, from 1,020 to 2,400. In the past three years, the increase in application for biotechnology fields has slowed, and the number of first-year students has settled at some 2,600.