Winter term starts 3 months late

Academic year saved after resolution of three-month strike; Bar-On: Tuition fees will still be raised.

hebrew university 224.88 (photo credit: Hebrew University )
hebrew university 224.88
(photo credit: Hebrew University )
University students resumed their academic studies on Sunday after an agreement signed Friday afternoon ended a three-month long strike by senior faculty. Despite the delay, the universities have pledged to carry out a full academic year. The year will likely stretch into July with exams in August, and without a break between semesters. Revised schedules were expected to be distributed to students on Sunday morning by their respective academic faculties. However, despite the optimism brought on by an end to the longest university strike in Israeli history, pessimism abounds. Avraham Shochat himself told Israel Radio on Sunday that if tuition would not be raised, NIS 700 million would be missing to implement the reform plan he suggested. Shochat headed a committee on higher education last year and formed a comprehensive plan to reform the face of Israeli academia, which also included a raise in tuition. This raise, however, was suggested to be given by the state as a long-term loan that can be paid back over ten years. Shochat was responding to a statement made by Education Minister Yuli Tamir on Saturday in which the latter said that tuition should not be discussed at the present time. Shochat added that the agreement reached between the government and the lecturers did not contradict in any way the conclusions of his committee. Shochat's comments came one day after Minister of Finance Ronnie Bar-On said will have to be implemented, including the dramatic rise in tuition fees. The fees rise was the issue which prompted the nationwide student strike in the spring term of last year. The 90-day strike came to an end Friday afternoon when the Senior Lecturers Union (SLU) and the Treasury signed a collective wage agreement for the period through 2009. The professors began their strike on October 21 to negotiate mechanisms to correct past and future salary erosion. The last collective agreement was signed in 1997. The lecturers will receive a 24.2 percent bonus in three payments over the next two years. They will receive 14% for past salary erosion, the 4.7% every public sector employee will get and a raise in salary of 5.5%. As part of the agreement, the lecturers have promised not to strike again until at least 2010. Prof. Zvi Hacohen, head of the SLU, told The Jerusalem Post Saturday night that he was proud of the deal they had signed. "We have reason to be happy. It's good for academia and it will help stop the brain drain," he said. He attributed the last-minute deal, just two days before the semester was set to be cancelled, to a variety of factors which converged to put severe pressure on the Treasury. The agreement was negotiated on the basis of a proposal by Histradrut Labor Federation head Ofer Eini with the help of Tamir. "The failure to get back-to-work orders against us, the preparations to close the universities, and the Knesset decision in support all conspired to put pressure on the Treasury. The loss of the semester would have cost at least twice as much as the deal we signed [was worth]," he told the Post. Hacohen said the strike had raised the stakes and that they had gotten more than they would have without it. "They [the Treasury] paid three times as much as they would have at the beginning," he said. Hacohen said they did have to come down in their demands a bit, and they didn't get the long-term agreement for which they had hoped, but were satisfied nonetheless. The SLU opted to sign a shorter-term agreement that also includes the pensioners rather than a longer-term one which would have left them out, a spokesman for the union said. Hacohen said the Treasury had not handled the situation well. "They were not very smart about it. We got more in the end and they had a strike, as well," he said. Even before the echoes of the strike died down, the specter of another university strike arose, this time by the junior faculty. Head of the Coordinating Forum of Junior Academic Staff Associations in Israel Eli Lohar told the Post Saturday night that the group had sent an urgent letter to the Committee of University Presidents (CUP) demanding talks over their working conditions. "We are not striking yet, but we have called on the CUP to begin talks with us in the coming days. If they decline, we will weigh our options carefully. So far we have not heard from them," he said. Lohar said the junior faculty's demands focused on pensions, seniority, severance and the other benefits they feel they should receive from the universities but do not. Meanwhile, students who took classes taught by the junior faculty will sit for the exams in the next two weeks and begin the semester at the same time. At Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, exams have been scheduled for Sunday and the semester will begin on Monday. The rest of the exams will be given starting Friday according to a new testing schedule, the university's academic secretary wrote in a letter to faculty and students. The two semesters will extend into July and exams will be given in August. The students are not expected to protest the agreement reached by the senior lecturers, because it did not include any compensation for the Shochat Report, a national student union spokeswoman told the Post. The Shochat Report is a sticking point for students because of its calls for increased tuition. On the same note, Tamir said Saturday that because of all the disruptions at the universities over the past few years, tuition would not be raised at this time. "After a war, a student strike and a lecturers strike, we will not raise tuition," she said. The student unions will focus on making the next several months of intensive study as smooth as possible, the spokeswoman said. The National Union of Israeli Students sent a letter to CUP head Prof. Moshe Kaveh last week outlining the steps it felt were needed to minimize the damage from the strike once classes resumed. The union laid out what it felt were the best options regarding testing, semesters and other aspects of the academic year.