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Tuesday may be remembered as the beginning of the end of the 32-day student strike that has paralyzed Israeli higher education and nearly led to the cancellation of the student semester.
The agreement, brokered between student union leaders and PMO representative Ovad Yehezkel, will allow students to appeal to an external arbitrator if they disagree with the Shochat Committee's final recommendations on tuition. The arbitrator will work with student and government representatives to arrive at a solution to the strike.
In addition, some NIS 45 million will be transferred to colleges for the purpose of lowering tuition, while some NIS 20m. will be returned to teachers' colleges, restoring some of the funding cut to the colleges over the past six years.
Meanwhile, the Knesset Education Committee met Tuesday in a special session to prepare the Student Rights Law for its second and third readings in the Knesset plenum. MKs had threatened to determine the cost of tuition by including it as a provision in the bill, an act that would bypass the Shochat Committee's recommendations. But the committee's vote on the bill was delayed by one week after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert personally asked committee chairman MK Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad) to give student-PMO negotiations more time.
"The strike has lasted 31 days," said Melchior in the committee meeting, "so it is expected that the prime minister, [who is serving] as finance minister, and the education minister [Yuli Tamir] would be negotiating day and night. But this is not happening. Everyone is waiting."
Melchior "blessed" the students for their decision to reject a previous compromise offer from the PMO that would have lowered tuition by 3 percent in the 2007-2008 academic year, but raised it to Shochat Committee-recommended levels in the years to follow.
Committee member MK Silvan Shalom (Likud,) one of the authors of the bill, said he believed the very threat of presenting the bill to the Knesset plenum would cause the Finance Ministry to "act quickly to end the strike."