A budgetary dispute between the Council for Higher Education and the Committee of Academic Colleges over funding earmarked for public colleges has put the academic future of 60 percent of Israel's college students in jeopardy, the head of the colleges committee told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
"The refusal of the Budgeting and Planning Committee [of the Council for Higher Education] to make good on its promises poses an existential threat to the continuation of academic colleges in Israel," Prof. Shosh Arad said. "They keep spinning us around, telling us to wait longer for the funding to arrive, and now they won't even answer or return our phone calls. We've had enough."
Arad explained that while academic colleges provide higher education for 60% of students, they are allotted only 13% of the higher education budget. Furthermore, the types of courses offered at academic colleges - such as environmental science - are not necessarily offered in universities, and therefore provide students with a unique array of courses that need extra funding in order to continue.
Arad told the Post that during the 2007 university strike, which was staged by professors across the country to protest eroding wages and a lack of workers' benefits, her committee had approached the government with a series of demands for college staff as well. While the government-established Council for Higher Education gave in to the demands of both the university professors and the college staff, Arad contended that only the universities - and not the colleges - had seen actual results.
"They can see it on their paychecks," Arad said of the university professors. "But we haven't gotten anything."
The council, however, painted a different picture on Thursday. One source told the Post that the financial sum in question was a contested payment from the 2008 academic year, amounting to NIS 7 million, that neither threatened the current semester nor posed a threat to future semesters.
"The academic colleges have received their funding for this year," the source said. "Additionally, the Council for Higher Education's Budgeting and Planning Committee has a meeting scheduled for the week after the Pessah holiday to put an end to this story once and for all. But at the end of the day, this whole argument is over a relatively small sum of money from last year, and the colleges committee is simply trying to get more money. Given that reality, I think Prof. Arad's statements about 60% of the country's college students being in jeopardy is unrealistic and over the top."
However, Arad maintained her position on Thursday, saying that she suspected the colleges might be receiving second-class treatment from the council because they lacked the distinguished reputation of institutions such as Jerusalem's Hebrew University or the Technion in Haifa. There are 21 academic or public colleges under Arad's jurisdiction, and like community colleges in the United States, they offer a lower tuition and wider enrollment opportunity than private universities.
"These are places for people who want to continue their education, but might not be able to afford the big-name schools," Arad said. "I'm afraid that might be part of the reason we're being passed over, and if we don't get the funding we need, it will trickle down to the students. They will be affected."
At the Kinneret College of the Galilee, a spokeswoman told the Post that the lack of funding, as Arad portrayed it, had already begun taking its toll on the students.
"We're really feeling it here," the spokeswoman said. "It's not that the Council for Higher Education isn't giving any money, it's that they aren't giving enough - they aren't giving what they promised, and we're feeling the brunt of it."
The spokeswoman went on to say that because of the financial problems, the college has had to put on hold all of its new courses for the following year.
"We're stuck," she said. "All the new ideas we had, all of the new courses we wanted to introduce, have been put on hold, because we don't have the money for resources. We can't afford to move forward."
When asked about the council's pledge to take care of the problem after Pessah, the spokeswoman scoffed.
"We've heard that before," she said. "But who knows, maybe now with the new education minister things will start to change."
Arad also said her committee had run out of patience and was now weighing more drastic measures.
"We want to meet with the new education minister, Gideon Sa'ar," she said. "But we're also looking at other options, and we haven't ruled out a strike."
Still, the source from the Council for Higher Education played down the situation altogether, telling the Post, "This entire issue will be over and done with by the end of the month."