Salaries, tuition dispute hold up higher education budget

Treasury objects to universities' call for NIS 1.8b.

teacher at board 88 (photo credit: )
teacher at board 88
(photo credit: )
The conceptual gaps between the Treasury and the Council for Higher Education, the universities and the Shochat Committee regarding next year's budget were underscored at a Knesset Finance Committee discussion on the topic on Wednesday. The senior lecturers, or more precisely their salaries, apparently lie at the core of the dispute once again. The Council for Higher Education and the universities are demanding NIS 1.8 billion over the next five years to enable them to meet basic costs next year. That was the minimum amount the Shochat Committee determined would be needed. However, the Finance Ministry has objected to allocating such a large sum on top of what it will have to pay out to senior lecturers according to their new wage agreement. "Most of the money [NIS 1.8b.] is intended for research and infrastructure," Avraham Baiga Shochat told the committee. A discussion then ensued as to who was most committed to the Shochat Report's recommendations, with the representatives of the Treasury, the Committee of University Presidents (CUP) and the higher education council's Planning and Budget Committee all vying for the top spot. It also became clear during the session that the issue of increasing tuition was also delaying matters. The Treasury representative noted that his ministry was the most interested in implementing the report's recommendations, including raising tuition. However, MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud) angrily retorted at one point that "the Knesset objects to the raising of tuition." Students have also vociferously objected to tuition hikes. In addition, the Treasury representative accused the council's Planning and Budgeting Committee of bad bookkeeping and of violating previously signed agreements, to which its head, Prof. Shlomo Grossman, vigorously replied, "We have never violated any framework that we have signed." MK Haim Oron (Meretz) suggested that the Treasury "make a decision, then come to the Knesset and tell us." The committee called on the government to discuss the Shochat Committee's recommendations at the next cabinet meeting on Sunday. The committee also called to freeze tuition hikes and to open negotiations with the students to resolve that aspect of the situation. Knesset Education Committee chair Michael Melchior (Labor) said after the meeting that "I and my committee will demand the necessary budget to sustain higher education without the stipulations of the [Finance Ministry] clerks who are holding higher education hostage in their attempt to raise tuition." During the meeting, the Planning and Budgeting Committee also presented a number of comparative statistics illustrating the dire straits in which higher education finds itself. According to the Council for Higher Education, NIS 6.1b. was allocated this year, representing two percent of the state's total budget. From 1995-2003, the number of students in higher education grew by 52%, while the spending for each student dropped 14%. The OECD average was a 38% growth in the number of students and a 6% increase in spending. From 1992-2003 the number of Israeli doctoral students in the US who planned to stay in the US after receiving their degrees rose by nearly 20%. Also, between 2001 and 2004, more than 100 senior lecturers left the system (from 270 to 164), while the number of students continued to rise each year.