University student unions go on strike

Junior high and high-school teachers to also strike on Wednesday.

jp.services1 (photo credit: )
(photo credit: )
The high school teachers' union announced Tuesday that it would begin striking across the country on Wednesday. The strike is set to apply to all high schools and junior high schools in which union teachers work, Israel Radio reported. Meanwhile, student groups have also shut down all public universities and colleges in protest over what they have called the government's failure to abide by agreements. "We will continue to fight until funds for higher education are restored and until tuition is lowered," said Tel Aviv University Student Union chairman Boaz Toporovsky. The student unions are accusing the government of failing to implement an NIS 150-million deal reached between the unions and Education Minister Yuli Tamir in late February and approved by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that was set to establish an independent committee outside the framework of the Shochat Committee to examine university tuition, freeze tuition for the 5768 (2007-2008) academic year at the current rate of NIS 8,588, and lower tuition in the colleges beginning next year. But, student groups say, the prime minister has yet to approve the deal in writing, and government agencies have not yet implemented its particulars. "In light of the absence of written confirmation from the prime minister, we are forced to stop higher education studies in order to protect the rights of students and to prevent a rise in tuition," said Bar Ilan University Student Union head Itamar Donenfeld. Education Minister Yuli Tamir said there was a "serious problem in education and higher education" and that "drastic measures" were needed. "We cannot allow the education system to be managed as it has in the past, without implementing any changes…Most of the professors and teachers' complaints stem from years of neglect [of the issues]," Tamir told Army Radio. However, the education minister criticized the teachers for threatening to strike. "The strike is not the answer. The teachers' union should join the dialogue we are having with the teachers' federation," she said. Early Tuesday, the students cancelled a meeting they had scheduled with Tamir and demanded direct talks with Olmert. She responded by saying, "the students have missed a golden opportunity." The mandate of the Shochat Committee, established in November 2006 to examine the future of higher education, 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. Students and lecturers have claimed the committee's members are beholden to the Finance Ministry, and that its recommendations were determined with its establishment and would involve the "privatization" of higher education in Israel. The latest strike threat included a renewed demand that the committee be dismantled and a new "objective" committee be established in its stead. Committee head Avraham (Beige) Shochat, a former finance minister, has called on all parties to await patiently the outcome of the committee's deliberations, telling the student groups it was "pointless for you to conduct a struggle against something that isn't there." On Sunday, Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski called on students not to carry out the planned strike. "[The students] must give negotiations a chance. The public must act responsibly and try to reach an appropriate agreement for all sides," said Bielski. According to Bielski, the Jewish Agency has contributed NIS 60 million to higher education in Israel.