Student strike jeopardizing olim plans

Delays in final grades holding up immigrants continuing degrees abroad.

jp.services2 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
Student strikes are not one of the challenges new immigrants expect to face in their new home, but as the two national student unions confirmed Sunday that the strike would continue for an 18th day Monday, olim at universities across Israel struggled with the consequences. "I love it here and always wanted to study here," said Rachel, a 26-year-old New York native studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Rachel immigrated four years ago and is studying for a Bachelor's degree in international relations. She has already been accepted to New York University for a Master's degree, but her enrollment is dependent on her final semester grades. "When I called the admissions office and told them about the strike they had no sympathy. They told me that without final grades they would revoke my admission," she said. "They don't have these types of strikes in the US so it isn't really something they sympathize about." Immigrant students often continue their educations abroad, making them more vulnerable to delays caused by a lengthy strike. Foreign universities also tend to be less understanding about a student being unable to turn in grades due to strikes, several students said. "The strike was suddenly imposed on us and it has knocked weeks off our learning schedules," said Evan Castle, a South African native who is pursuing a Master's degree at Tel Aviv University. Like Rachel, Castle has already been accepted to continue his studies at the London School of Economics, on the condition that he finishes his Master's at TAU. "It will be so much more difficult now because I have a much bigger course load with less time to get it done," said Castle. His schedule is currently structured so that after classes end in August, he can move to London in time for the school year's start in September. With classes at a standstill, however, he is worried he will not complete his courses in time. "I started speaking with the administration last week, but there are no clear options for what will happen with me," he said. Olim have also found themselves unsure about what their role in the strike should be. Young new immigrants are given the option of getting either their Bachelor's or Master's degree for free, or at least partially funded by the state. The free education attracts many young people who immigrate to Israel and continue their studies. It has also created friction between native Israeli students, who pay for their educations, and what they see as the "freeloading" olim. "The students who are Israeli, who are paying their tuition, are feeling some animosity. They feel like we [olim] just come here for the free studies," said Castle. "It is hard to have a voice in the strike, one way or the other, when you aren't paying tuition." Meanwhile, olim students seem to be on both sides of the debate over the strike. As with many Israeli students, Bar-Ilan University's Shana Krakowski is both supportive and frustrated. "On the one hand I think that the strike is a good cause, as I already see my Israeli friends working like crazy just to have enough money to pay tuition," she said. "I am also worried because the Student Authority has been having problems getting us the money for our tuition on time, and if tuition is raised even more maybe they will stop paying the complete amount because it will be too expensive," she added. Asked how the strike affected her personally, Krakowski replied, "I feel very frustrated at this point, and I am hoping that the strike will end very soon. They are talking about extending the semester, and many olim already made plans to visit their families overseas. I personally am nervous about the possibility of not being able to graduate on time." An "Anglo" who works for Bar-Ilan's Student Union, Eli Gross takes a somewhat different stance. "Although my personal tuition will not be affected by the tuition increase, if I plan on doing a Master's, it will. I also believe that if the heads of the student union, who are elected officials, think that this is what is best for the students, then I am going to stick with them to the end," he said. Gross also bases his support for the strike on what he has learned through his academic studies. "Personally, I'm studying education and I see how the system has built-in problems," he said. "A huge percentage of the students need scholarships or other forms of financial aid in order to be able to study, and if the government increases tuition a lot more people will simply be unable to go to university," said Gross, who is in his second year as an educational counseling student. Asked what he would do if the semester were extended, Gross replied simply, "My summer plans are down the drain." A student union representative said only that, while both the National Union of Israeli Students and the National Student Organization support aid for immigrant students, they were fighting for better conditions and lower tuition for the rest of Israel's higher education students. Haviv Rettig contributed to this report.