Students burn tires, block roads in protest in TA

Student union head arrested; teachers of grades 7-12 continue strike.

strike students 298 (photo credit: Courtesy)
strike students 298
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Hundreds of students protested Wednesday outside the offices of the Open University in North Tel Aviv where the Shochat Committee has its permanent offices, calling for the committee to be dismantled and demanding to immediately meet with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. After entering the facility, the students were surprised to find out that the committee's members were not present. Aware of the upcoming protest, it later turned out, its members had decided to meet in another undisclosed location. Tel Aviv Univeristy's student union spokesperson Dafna Cohen told The Jerusalem Post that police subsequently arrested three students, including Tel Aviv University student union head Boaz Toporovsky, as they were trying to break down the fence to disrupt the Shochat Committee. The three were later released from custody. Student demonstrators also marched down Einstein Street outside Tel Aviv University, blocked the Namir road, held banners and shouted slogans like "Olmert, higher education is not a property for sale". A few students burned tires at the major junction of Namir and Rokach roads. Meanwhile, teachers also closed down junior and senior high schools and the teachers union said Wednesday morning that their strike would continue into Thursday. Earlier, the university student unions canceled a meeting with Education Minister Yuli Tamir. The university students went on strike Tuesday after demanding a meeting with Olmert, whom they accused of "not caring" about the "precarious" state of higher education in Israel. Having turned their back on a NIS 150 million agreement reached with Tamir in late February - student leaders accuse the prime minister of failing to support it - the student unions have demanded that the Shochat Committee be disbanded; tuition be lowered in keeping with the recommendations of the Winograd Committee (on university tuition, not the one on the Second Lebanon War) five years ago; and the establishment of a new state committee, including both student and lecturer representatives, charged with examining higher education. The mandate of the Shochat Committee, established in November 2006 to examine the future of higher education, includes evaluating 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 committee has also drawn the ire of university lecturers, who have supported and even threatened to join the current strikes due to their disagreements with the Finance Ministry and their predictions that the Shochat Committee's will recommend instituting new merit-based pay scales for lecturers, and increasing state control of university hierarchies. Lecturers have also protested any lack of compensation for the devaluation in their salaries due to inflation. The university and college closures are expected to affect an estimated 250,000 students. Meanwhile Tuesday, the Secondary School Teachers' Organization announced it would close down high schools throughout the country starting Wednesday morning for an open-ended strike, thus extending the Pessah vacation for some 650,000 seventh- to twelfth-graders. The teachers unions have been threatening for months to shut down the school system completely if the Finance Ministry remained steadfast in its refusal to negotiate a collective salary agreement for teachers. The last collective wage agreement expired in 2005. The teachers are demanding the negotiation of a more favorable wage scheme than is currently in place and increasing the number of annual early retirement packages for educators. Following the opening of negotiations between teachers' organizations and the Finance Ministry in January, the organizations have accused the ministry of "dragging its feet" in the negotiating process. The Finance Ministry, for its part, has said that negotiations continued and the strike showed bad faith on the part of the teachers.