Tuition hike cancelled follows criticism

MK Michael Melchior: The Finance Ministry's recommendations must be 'a bad joke.'

Finance Minister Avraham Hirchson withdrew his proposed tuition hike on Monday evening following a chorus of protests that included senior cabinet ministers, MKs and student union heads. The Finance Ministry planned to raise university tuition by an astronomical 50 percent over four years in order to pay for the budget shortfall following the war in the North. In addition, ministry officials were reportedly contemplating severe cutbacks in welfare subsidies and grants for released soldiers, along with delaying the planned rise in minimum wage scheduled for June 2007. The leak of the contents of the Finance Ministry's latest Arrangements Bill was timed just before Hirchson's planned presentation of the bill on Monday afternoon. Following the political firestorm that ensued, however, the presentation was delayed. A Finance Ministry spokesman would not confirm that the tuition hikes were canceled, telling The Jerusalem Post only that they "were not on the government's table at this time." Following the revelation of the Finance Ministry's plans, Education Minister Yuli Tamir blasted Hirchson over the rise in tuition. "I was shocked to read in the press that your ministry recommends raising tuition at institutions of higher learning," Tamir wrote to Hirchson on Monday. She added that the plan was prepared "without coordination with me, and despite the fact that you know well that any such suggestion… hurts students and will severely restrict access to higher education." The student unions also threatened to strike at the opening of the academic year in late October. Student union leaders from Israel's colleges joined the National Student Union, which represents some 200,000 students from the public universities, in vowing that they would not let the Arrangements Bill pass if it harmed the weak sectors of society. MK Michael Melchior, the Meimad representative in the Labor Party and chairman of the Knesset Education Committee, joined the chorus of voices opposed to the cutbacks. "The Finance Ministry's recommendations must be a bad joke," the usually understated Melchior said, adding that the Education Committee recently decided to lower university tuition. "Among the Education Committee['s 15 members] there is agreement that another burden on students and increasing the socioeconomic gap is not what is needed at this time," he said.