student strike class 298.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The deal reached last week between the government and the national student unions was made official Sunday at a signing ceremony in the Prime Minister's Office between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Education Minister Yuli Tamir, Finance Ministry Director-General Yarom Ariav and student union heads Itay Shonshine and Itay Barda. The student unions' acceptance on Tuesday of the government's compromise offer had ended a 36-day strike in universities and colleges that threatened to cancel second semester this year.
"The agreement we signed with the National Teachers Union [also last week] and the agreement we signed with you are steps on the road to a better education system," Olmert told the student leaders at the ceremony.
The student leaders were equally optimistic. "I'm glad we arrived at this point after the long struggle," said Shonshine, chairman of the National Union of Israeli Students. "The deal we arrived at is a good one, and I believe it will be implemented."
Bar-Ilan University President Prof. Moshe Kaveh, chairman of the Committee of University Presidents, promised at the meeting that "the entire faculty of the institutions [of higher education] will work hard to make sure the semester is unharmed and the year ends positively."
While the agreement does not disband the Shochat Committee, establish a special judge-led state commission to examine tuition or provide for the implementation of the Winograd recommendations of 2002 that called to lower tuition to below NIS 6,000 - all demands termed "red lines" by the students at the beginning of the strikes - it does grant student unions significant input in the final version of the recommendations that will be submitted to the cabinet from the Shochat Committee. This is done through a formal veto power over the final version of the committee's recommendations that will be submitted to the cabinet.
According to the text of the agreement, immediately following the presentation of the recommendations and before they are given to the cabinet, whose approval would make them government policy, student and government representatives would meet to discuss the recommendations. "The discussions will end in agreed-upon recommendations that will be given to the cabinet," reads a copy of the compromise offer obtained by The Jerusalem Post over the weekend.
The offer also includes the freezing of tuition for the coming 5768 academic year at the current level of some NIS 8,600 and promises that the current semester would not be canceled and students would not be penalized despite having missed over one-third of the semester.
On condition of "the implementation of the Shochat recommendations as agreed in the cabinet," the compromise would include a return of over NIS 1 billion, spread across four years, to the higher education budget, funds that had been cut from the budget during the past seven years.
The Shochat Committee's preliminary report is expected at the end of May.