BGU 'snubbed' in tuition bill for discharged soldiers

BGU snubbed in tuition

A proposed law that would grant recently-discharged soldiers and National Service graduates one free year of tuition at higher education institutions in the country's periphery, has drawn the ire of Ben-Gurion University, after the government decided that BGU would not be included in the list of institutions where the benefits could be used. The proposal, which was initiated by MK Gila Gamliel (Likud) and Prime Minister's Office Director-General Eyal Gabai, was brought to the weekly cabinet meeting last Sunday, where it was lauded by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and has been presented by other government officials as a positive step toward strengthening areas outside of the country's major population centers. But BGU has expressed dismay over both the government's decision to exclude it from the eligible institutions, and a subsequent explanation provided by the Prime Minister's Office. In a letter sent Tuesday to both Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for the Development of the Galilee and Negev Silvan Shalom, together with Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, BGU President Prof. Rivka Carmi lamented BGU's apparent exclusion from the bill, describing it as a "damaging" decision whose repercussions would be felt far beyond the university itself. "No less than the decision itself, we were surprised to hear the explanation given by a PMO spokesman regarding this matter," she added. In a discussion with The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday, Carmi explained her confusion with the explanation, saying, "The fact that we're an attractive option for students shouldn't be taken for granted. It's taken a lot of hard work to get where we are today, and we have to continue working hard to stay that way. "The government is saying that this decision was made to strengthen the periphery," she continued. "But if they want to strengthen the periphery, the bill should include all of the [higher education] institutions here." But a spokeswoman from the Prime Minister's Office told the Post on Wednesday that BGU's success was only part of the government's decision. "The government's goal is in no way to hurt BGU," she said. "This bill is trying to strengthen weaker institutions in the area, who frankly need the help. If the government were to extend the same benefits to BGU, which is already far ahead of the local colleges in the Negev, that would only further the current inequality that exists between the institutions.