The education system is gearing up for a bitter budget battle as university administrators, lecturers and students square off against each other in preparation for the start of the academic year after Succot.
Earlier this week, university presidents threatened not to open the school year if the state-funded universities didn't receive a sizable portion of the increases recommended by the Shochat Committee in July.
The universities are demanding some NIS 300 million this year, saying that otherwise they will not be able to pay salaries, according to Bar-Ilan University President Moshe Kaveh.
Separately, university lecturers promised to prevent the opening of the academic year due to "stalled" salary negotiations with the Finance Ministry, a complaint they have maintained against the ministry for more than a year.
Senior Lecturers Union head Prof. Tzvi Hacohen said the Treasury "was allowing negotiations to continue right up to the start of the academic year."
The National Union of Israeli Students rejected the university presidents' rational for keeping the schools closed; the largest Israeli student union opposes the Shochat Committee recommendations.
The students are happy with the government's delay in implementing the recommendations, which include a significant hike in tuition, along with loans that would spread that tuition over several years.
The government was supposed to begin implementing the recommendations in the first semester of the 5768 (2007-2008) academic year, but disagreement between government officials and the student unions has delayed discussion of the measures until at least February.
The delay has led the Finance Ministry to refuse to release to the universities funds promised in the context of the Shochat Committee, which recommended an NIS 2.5-billion increase in higher education funding over a five-year period of reform.
It is this wait, while the students, Prime Minister's Office negotiators (including Deputy Premier Haim Ramon) and Treasury officials argue over details and implementation, that has irked the university presidents, who fear the ongoing discussions could delay the influx of needed funds for a year.
Meanwhile, the country's dozens of private colleges will not strike, according to sources close to college administrators. The Shochat Committee did not systematically address the funding of colleges, and many of their presidents were disappointed that the committee's recommendations focused almost exclusively on strengthening the state universities.
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