Ben Gurion University students threaten hunger strike

Bar Ilan head: If strike goes on, semester obsolete; North high schools closed.

student protest 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
student protest 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
As the student strike entered its 26th day on Wednesday, some 40 students from Ben Gurion University in the Negev threatened to hold an open-ended hunger strike in Beersheba's Kiryat Hamemeshala (Government Compound). The students set up a tent encampment as part of their ongoing protests against the Shochat Committee's recommendation to raise tuition fees and urged fellow students from across the country to join them. Late Monday night, The National Student Union announced that it had rejected the draft agreement proposed by the Prime Minister's Office to end the strikes in universities and colleges across the country. "Their insistence on raising tuition fees and a setting up a destructive mechanism for the educational establishment is plain to see. Classes will not resume, and protests will continue until the government's sanity is restored or until its complete collapse," read a statement released by the union. Bar Ilan University President Prof. Moshe Kaveh said Tuesday morning that if the students did continue their strike, the semester would be automatically null and void. In an interview with Israel Radio, Kaveh said that "the Committee of University Presidents has not given an ultimatum to the students, but if the students already missed a third of the semester - it can't go on like this." The Bar Ilan president called on the students to end the 25-day-old strike and resume negotiations, that they were primarily harming themselves. He added that the Shochat Committee had not yet submitted its final recommendations for reforms, and that tuition was only one of the issues at hand. On Monday night, National Student Union leaders deliberated whether to accept the new compromise offer from the Prime Minister's Office, according to which tuition would be frozen at the current level of NIS 8,588 for the 5768 (2007-2008) academic year. According to the proposal, students registered in the 5767 academic year would continue to pay this tuition until the end of their degrees. Those who begin degrees next year would take on the tuition scheme laid out in the Shochat Committee's recommendations for the remainder of their degree, though they (and only they) would receive a three percent reduction in tuition in 5769. In addition, the compromise offer gave student unions one month after the submission of the Shochat Committee's recommendations (due by the end of June) to present the government with its views on the recommendations or to present an alternate plan for reforming higher education. Regardless of the decision, stated the compromise, the student unions would be bound by the final decision of the government. Responding to the offer, student union leaders displayed the first signs of a split in their ranks. By Monday night, union heads from Hebrew University, the Technion, Haifa University, Ben Gurion University and Bar Ilan University seemed to lean toward accepting the compromise offer, while national student union leaders Itay Shonshine and Itay Barda, along with Tel Aviv University's union leader Boaz Toporovsky, opposed the offer. Due to the ongoing deliberations among the unions, the Committee of University Presidents, which had presented the unions with an ultimatum stating that if students did not return to their classes by Monday they would forfeit the semester's courses and receive failing grades, decided to extend the deadline of their ultimatum by another day due to the "apparent advance in the negotiations between the students and the government." Meanwhile, junior high and high schools in the country's North were closed on Tuesday as the weeks-long high school teachers' strike continued in protest of "stalled" negotiations with the Education and Finance ministries over new wage agreements for the teachers. The teachers' union called the strike for cities throughout the North, following Monday's strike throughout the South.