"The protest by the lecturers' representatives [against the work of the Shochat Committee] is completely baseless," complained former finance minister Avraham Shochat in a meeting of the Knesset Education Committee on Wednesday. "The goal of the [Shochat] committee is to guarantee excellence and access in higher education," he added. The Shochat Committee was established in November 2006 to examine the future of higher education. The six-member committee lacks representatives from the student unions or lecturers' organizations, leading the two groups to vociferously oppose the committee's work in the past months. The committee's mandate includes examining merit-based pay scales for university lecturers, setting tuition policy and dealing with the "brain drain" of researchers leaving Israel for better-funded institutions in the United States and Britain. The meeting in the Knesset was called to air the lecturers' grievances, and another meeting of the Education Committee in two weeks' time will give the student unions the same opportunity. "All we ask is that any change in wages and working conditions be carried out with our agreement, not through force," said Ben-Gurion University biochemist Prof. Tzvi Hacohen, head of the lecturers' union. "We understand that the committee intends to recommend that not all lecturers receive tenure, and that a differential salary scheme be instituted. We won't allow a situation in which lecturers are hired through individual contracts for specified periods of time." "I call on the lecturers to come, join and contribute to the committee's work," said Shochat in response, saying the committee's recommendations were not yet formed and it was "pointless for you to conduct a struggle against something that isn't there." For Hebrew University President Prof. Menachem Magidor, representing the university presidents at the Wednesday meeting, the Shochat Committee was a welcome development, since it was conducting a "comprehensive public discussion of higher education for the first time in 10 years." Magidor also expressed support for "a separate hiring track for a small number of lecturers for a limited time, with no tenure and an irregular salary, in order to allow for the special employment of exceptional cases, such as sought after lecturers from overseas." Education Committee Chairman MK Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad) said the Shochat Committee "was a historic opportunity that we are in danger of losing." What happened to the Dovrat Committee Report, where the teachers refused to implement it after they were not included in its formulation, must not be allowed to happen to the Shochat Committee Report," he warned.