Academic year opens, but not in North
Student registration down 1.3% for universities, up 5.3% for nation's colleges.
By HAVIV RETTIG, MATT ZALEN
October 22, 2006 08:31
3 minute read.
givat ram students 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Some 254,000 college and university students began the 5767 academic year on Sunday. It started successfully everywhere except the North, where colleges delayed their opening by two weeks to give more time for rehabilitating the local infrastructure and social fabric following the war in Lebanon.
Yet, while Education Minister Yuli Tamir said the academic year opened "in an organized and quiet fashion," fierce wrangling was under way over a NIS 1.2 billion cut in the higher education budget since 2001.
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While a last-minute NIS 140 million contribution from the Finance Ministry quieted threats from the Committee of University Presidents that they would not open their institutions for the new year, the first morning of the academic year already witnessed renewed controversy over the universities' ability and willingness to open for the second semester of 5767.
Bar-Ilan University President Prof. Moshe Kaveh, head of the Council of Israeli University Presidents, warned that the budget shortfall would make it practically impossible for the universities to open on schedule for the second semester.
Meanwhile, Treasury officials announced that the NIS 140m. promised to the universities in the budget will only be allocated once a special committee established by the Finance and Education ministries submits its recommendations on January 31.
The committee, the outcome of intense negotiations between Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson, Tamir and university presidents, was founded to "examine the future of higher education," according to Tamir. Unlike previous committees dealing with higher education, it will include members from non-academic backgrounds.
Members will include Koby Haver, the head of the Finance Ministry budget department; Prof. Shlomo Grossman, the chairman of the Council for Higher Education's planning and budgeting committee; Kaveh, Prof. Manuel Trachtenberg and Tamir. It is expected to be headed by former finance minister Avraham Shochat.
Tamir has promised that a central focus of the committee's work will be returning the funds taken from higher education institutions.
The committee's deadline of January 31 for submitting its recommendations to the government is intended to facilitate a speedy reform plan. One of the committee's most important issues will be the method for determining lecturers' salaries in the state universities. While the Finance Ministry has demanded a merit-based salary scheme, the professors' union has protested the idea.
While the universities' fight was partly to compensate for the lowered tuition costs, Hebrew University students said covering tuition was among their top worries. Many feared the demands of payments would endanger their academic achievement.
"In my second year I was studying and working and I had less time for school," said Tal, a fourth-year social work and law student. She was forced to turn to her family for financial support.
Aliza, 19, a communications and business administration student, earned enough money over the summer to begin the school year, but not enough to get through it. "I'm hoping to find a job this week," she said. "But I haven't yet started working so I don't know yet if I'll have enough time."
Miri Freedman, 19, a first-year accounting student, said, "Working will really affect my studying. I'll have a lot less time to devote to my studies. But I need money to live."
According to figures reported by the Council of Higher Education, enrollment in Israel's colleges increased this year, while enrollment in the universities declined. Last year the number of students applying to universities surpassed the colleges by some 16,000. This year the difference will only be approximately 12,000, with a decrease of 1.3 percent in university registration and a rise of 5.3% in college registration.
Yet, despite the ongoing controversies and concerns surrounding higher education in general, and the state of the universities in particular, universities and colleges in the center and South of the country opened as scheduled on Sunday. Haifa University will open next week and the rest of the North's academic institutions will open on November 4.
And for some 49,000 undergraduates throughout the country, the opening of the 5767 academic year marks the beginning of their higher education.