Yuli Tamir 88 224.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
University students concerned that the exam delay as a result of last year's student strike had left them with no summer vacation can heave a sigh of relief - the University Senior Lecturers' Union announced late Thursday evening that the start of the academic year would be delayed.
Senior Lecturers' Union representatives announced that following a failure to reach an agreement with the Finance Ministry, their organization would begin their strike on Sunday, the day on which thousands of university students were set to begin classes.
The likelihood of the strike actually starting on Sunday was high as no weekend meetings were scheduled between lecturers' representatives and government officials from either the Education or Finance ministries.
The union had threatened earlier this week it would not open the 5768 academic year because a collective wage agreement has been missing for lecturers since 2001, while wages have eroded significantly in the intervening years.
Meanwhile, high schools and most junior high schools remained closed Thursday as the Secondary Schools Teachers Organization entered its eighth day of the strike over wages and working conditions.
The Finance and Education ministries have continued to call on the union to accept already existing wage agreements and to end the strike.
Negotiations between government officials and the union continued Thursday morning at the Education Ministry offices in Tel Aviv, but once again ended without tangible progress.
Police reported a 200 percent increase in public disturbance complaints issued against high-school age students, who were left without any planned activities during both daytime and evening.
Prof. Zvi Hacohen, head of the lecturers' negotiations team, said that lecturers' salaries had been reduced by an average of 15% in recent years. Lecturers are consequently requesting a 20% pay increase.
Salaries for senior lecturers - university staff members ranging from lecturers to professors - usually range from NIS 10,000 to NIS 21,000 for certain full professors. These salaries are significantly lower - even when adjusted for cost of living - than their colleagues in Western countries.
The past two years have been difficult ones for students looking to complete degree programs and enter the work force. The 5766 school year culminated with many students missing final exams while called up for reserves in the Second Lebanon War, and the 5767 school year was marked by a massive 41-day student strike.
On Thursday night, university Web sites were reluctant to officially announce the delay to the opening of the academic year, and most of the students' unions also were slow to post responses to the decision.
Following the collapse of negotiations, the Tel Aviv Student Union announced that "the union supports the lecturers' struggle," emphasizing that the exposition planned for the opening of the school year would be delayed until further notice.
Meanwhile, the committee of university presidents rescinded its call to strike once a late-night deal seemed likely to bring NIS 300 million of funding recommended by the controversial Shochat Commission into university coffers.
Bar-Ilan University President and head of the university presidents' committee Prof. Moshe Kaveh sent a letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday night concerning the allocation of the NIS 300 million in this year's budget.