Plenum okays new bill for student rights

The so-called "student rights bill" presented by MK Silvan Shalom to the Knesset plenum on Wednesday morning passed its preliminary hearing by a unanimous vote of 64 to zero. "This is the first time students' rights will be established by law," Shalom said following the vote. Referring to the preliminary vote as a "revolution," he believed it would "for the first time give students legislative protection from indiscriminate harm that might be done to them by government ministries or institutions of higher education." Shalom added that he planned to bring the bill to the Knesset Education Committee for review at the earliest possible opportunity. The bill seeks to anchor in law a series of provisions aimed at easing the financial and administrative burden on university students. If passed into law, the bill would mandate that the amount of tuition at public universities be defined in legislation and would call for the establishment of a more robust national financial aid system. Many of the bill's provisions are largely declaratory, such as the section forbidding discrimination on the basis of factors such as religion or ethnic origin. While he doesn't see a serious discrimination problem in higher education, Shalom told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that there were some concerns about "faculties who require an interview for entry." Similarly, the bill espouses "the right to free expression and organization" specifically for students and defines "behavioral regulations" for both students and academic institutions. But the bill has other provisions that, if passed, would constitute a real change in many students' financial and academic lives. For instance, it gives students many rights only rarely permitted in university regulations, such as the right to suspend their studies for extended periods of time and legal parameters for retaking exams and appealing the results - all actions currently regulated by the universities themselves. The bill also demands that degrees from different universities be recognized as equal for purposes of employment, preventing employers from choosing candidates based on the university in which they studied. In addition, the bill reduces students' income tax and lowers the cost of public transportation by a factor that could be as high as 50 percent. While the Education Committee's chairman, MK Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad), is currently overseas and has not had a chance to carefully examine the bill, a source close to Melchior said that "in his view, it is very difficult for the students today."