The university academic year has already started. That's great for those enrolled in undergraduate and graduate degree programs at any of Jerusalem's nearly 20 recognized institutions of higher education, since financial incentives to study and live in Jerusalem just got a whole lot better. On November 1, a new program offering Jerusalem-based students rental grants of up to 6,600 NIS/year and tuition grants of up to 10,000 NIS/year was launched. The grants are part of the far-reaching Aid Package Initiative to strengthen Jerusalem's economy and rejuvenate its center, and are the product of joint efforts between the Jerusalem Municipality; the Jerusalem Development Authority (JDA), which is handling administration; and the Prime Ministerâ€šs Office, which is footing the NIS 10 million total cost. "Jerusalem is Israel's eternal capital and thus we must enhance its status as a national asset of the highest order," wrote Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in a press release distributed this week, adding that he intends to enact various plans to bolster the capital in the fields of employment and housing in the city center. "Young people are the future of Jerusalem," added JDA Director Ezra Levy. "The JDA is advancing a series of projects designed to bring young couples and students in order to assure the future of the capital." Not surprisingly, the large sums come with a few qualifications and strings attached. Only students who rent apartments in the very center of the city are eligible for the rental subsidy - the total budget for which is NIS 4 million of the NIS 10 million total. A student who rents a flat in the semi-central neighborhood of Nachlaot, for example, which is very popular among students, is not eligible. In the case of the tuition grant, which carries a total NIS 6 million budget - students must be live in Jerusalem, pursue scientific/technological studies and work in the high-tech field in Jerusalem for a minimum of three years after graduation. Otherwise, the grant will be converted into an interest-free loan, to be paid back starting 14 months after graduation. However, says third year philosophy, political science and economics student Shirona Partem, a Hebrew University Student Union representative, "Many students did know about the grants before school started, but not enough in advance. But it's still a great initiative to help students in Jerusalem." Despite the late kick-off, the JDA promises that students have not missed their chance for this year and can apply to both funding programs retroactively. However, it is highly unlikely that this will entice students who have already registered at other Israeli universities, or even universities abroad, to come to Jerusalem this year. To apply for the rental grant, a student need only drop by the Jerusalem Bank before November 30 with the proper paperwork to get the ball rolling. The grant will be effective retroactively to August, 2005. Applications for the tuition grant are currently available at all participating institutions and students can apply now and receive the subsidy for the current academic year. "We are aware that it is late," acknowledges the JDA's Maya German. Officials declined to explain why the grants were so late, but German adds, "Better late than never."