Campaign seeks revolution in higher education

"Free to Study," a new campaign that could potentially revolutionize access to higher education in Israel, was launched Wednesday in Tel Aviv. The cam

"Free to Study," a new campaign that could potentially revolutionize access to higher education in Israel, was launched Wednesday in Tel Aviv.

The campaign, which is supported by a new law proposal to be submitted on Monday by MK Yuli Tamir (Labor), is the initiative of high tech executive and Labor activist Guy Spiegelman.

The campaign, whose slogan is "Start studying - pay when you work," is based on what the Australian-born Spiegelman, who has been living in Israel for 11 years, described as a successful Australian model currently being implemented in other countries.

"As a new immigrant," Spiegelman said at a press conference on Wednesday, "I speak often to Israeli students and suddenly I said to myself - why couldn't a model that has been successful in Australia and New Zealand and which is being implemented this year in England, also work here?"

According to the proposal developed by Spiegelman and Tamir with the assistance of Tel Aviv's finance expert Dr. Efrat Tolkowsky, Israeli students - regardless of their economic status - will be able to choose whether to pay tuition at the beginning of the school year, or whether to postpone payment until they have graduated and have jobs.

Students will begin repayment only once they are working and earning a salary equal to, or higher than, the average national wage. Repayment, according to this proposal, will be conducted through the National Insurance Institute, which will add 3.5% to the social security payments of former students.

Those who lose their jobs or suffer a salary decrease will not have to continue payments until their salary reaches the average wage again.

Nevertheless, the universities will immediately receive the tuition fees for individual students following their registration.

The proposal offers two models for financing tuition payments to the universities. According to one model, the tuition payments will come from a loan taken out by the government, which will be repaid through the payments made to social security.

The second model, a government-backed education bond, will be issued by a special-purpose company.

The tuition payments provided to the universities will similarly be reimbursed through repayments by students.

According to Tamir, the two different options are currently being examined in consultation with different government bodies.

She said there have also been initial contacts with representatives of the Finance and Education Ministries and the Jewish Agency has responded enthusiastically to the idea of marketing such bonds as a form of a donation to Israel.

Spiegelman explained that recent research has revealed that 27 percent of university students currently enrolled for the academic school year have no idea how they will finance their studies.

Furthermore, the National Bureau of Statistics data reveals that 59% of residents in wealthier areas pursue a higher education, while only 14% of residents in poorer areas currently study for an academic degree.

Tamir and Spiegelman said their program would provide a way to finance tuition and would allow existing scholarships to pay for students' living expenses as well as allocating funds to research and development.

The implementation of such a program, according to Tamir, would involve a certain tuition increase for those who chose to defer tuition payments.

Unlike the kind of accruing interest involved in taking out a private loan, however, the repayment program designed by Tamir and Spiegelman will essentially involve an effective interest based on the salary of each individual student.

For example, a former student earning NIS 7,000 will pay NIS 280 per month over 10 years and pay an effective interest of 2.7%, while a former student earning NIS 14,000 will pay NIS 560 over five years and pay an effective interest of 5.8%.

Next month, Spiegelman and Tamir, who is also a professor of philosophy and education, will host a roundtable with the Australian professor Bruce Chapman, an international expert and OECD consultant on financing higher education.

Gal Dai, head of the Israeli Students' Organization, said that the organization decided to support Tamir's law proposal because they had concluded that it offered the right solution.

"We've come to the realization that there is no point in struggling against a tuition increase of several percent, and we now see the bigger picture," Dai said.

He added that he urged other student organizations, as well as higher education officials, to support the program.

"It's time the state invested in its human capital and in the generation of the future," Dai said.