Grapevine: A southern domino effect?

Notwithstanding the economic and security problems of the South, enrollment at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev is flourishing.

Ben-Gurion University's campus in Sde Boker (photo credit: BEN GURION UNIVERSITY OF THE NEGEV)
Ben-Gurion University's campus in Sde Boker
■ THE CLOSURE of the Arad Towels factory has caused 200 people to join the ranks of the unemployed. Arad Mayor Tali Ploskov attributed this to the government turning its attention to hi-tech, and ignoring people in other occupations.
Four years ago Arad Towels had 700 employees, but laid off 500. Negev Textiles closed down last year; other factories in Arad such as Flextronics and Elbit Systems pared down their payrolls. When the hue and cry rose over the closure of Negev Textiles, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett promised that the company’s former employees would be retrained. But the majority are middle-aged, and would be unlikely to find employment elsewhere even if they were retrained.
Arad is not the only southern city with unemployment woes. Regional council heads met last week to collectively ask the government to realize that an emergency situation is brewing. Benny Biton, the mayor of Dimona and chairman of the Forum of Development Towns, said the government has been promising for years that unemployment will be reduced, but this has not happened – and even the current unemployment situation cannot be maintained.
As far as Dimona is concerned, he said, the education system is excellent and 7,500 housing units are under construction, “but education and affordable accommodation are not enough. The Israeli government has to realize that this is an emergency. Unemployment is not an edict from above; it is a result of decisions made by the government.”
Interviewed on Channel 2, Biton said that without employment, people will not stay in Dimona. Biton added that he had told Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai he was sick and tired of exporting Dimona’s children to the “State of Tel Aviv.” Fifty percent of the municipal budget goes to education, he said, “but after our children finish their military service, they leave this city – not because they don’t want to live in the South, but because there are no jobs.
“I appreciate what the government does for the Negev; we are not whiny, ungrateful mayors, but the government must take this seriously.”
■ WHILE THE government may be taking an ostrich policy with regard to the emergency situation in the Negev, the Jewish Agency demonstrated more understanding and moved its board of governors meeting from Mexico to Ashkelon as an expression of solidarity. Mexico had initially been designated for the meeting within the framework of the board’s rotation among world Jewish communities. However, after taking stock of what southern residents experienced this past summer, the board’s leadership decided to move the venue.
The three-day meeting was headed by board chairman Charles “Chuck” Horowitz Ratner and chairman of the executive Natan Sharansky. Participants met with local residents and officials, and also moved around the Negev and made a point of visiting Kibbutz Nahal Oz, which sits literally on the border with Gaza and suffered heavy bombardment.
Speakers who addressed the gathering included inter alia Rachel Fraenkel, the bereaved mother of one of the three yeshiva students kidnapped and murdered by Hamas; Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein; Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council head Alon Shuster; Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi; and MKs Nachman Shai and Ze’ev Elkin.
■ NOTWITHSTANDING THE economic and security problems of the South, and reports that more students are enrolling at colleges than at universities, enrollment at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev continues to flourish.
The new academic year began last Sunday with a 4.5% increase in the number of undergraduate students. Approximately 20,000 BGU students took up their studies Sunday, including 38 at the Albert Katz International School for Desert Studies in Sde Boker, and 640 at the university’s Eilat campus.
“After a summer in which many programs were disrupted because of the war in the South and after most of the missed classes and examinations have been made up, we are looking forward to starting the new school year on the right foot,” said BGU president Rivka Carmi. Rich and varied academic programs and fascinating research topics combined with exciting community events on-campus promise an interesting and enjoyable year, she added, noting that “community involvement and action will add even more meaning to academic life, and contribute to the special experience of higher education at the dynamic and developing Ben-Gurion University in the new Negev, being built before our eyes.”
Carmi also pointed to an encouraging trend, whereby BGU has received more applications from highly qualified undergraduate candidates. Additionally, the university has raised NIS 1 million in scholarship funding.
According to academic secretary Prof. Ariel Feldstein, more than 5,600 students will study engineering, and 5,190 will study humanities and social sciences. BGU’s Guilford Glazer Faculty of Business and Management will teach 1,700 students; the Faculty of Health Sciences 2,400; and 2,300 students will study at the Faculty of Natural Sciences.
New undergraduate tracks this year include an honors program in Middle East studies; lighting materials, a joint program of the materials and mechanical engineering departments; and tunneling sciences, in collaboration with Israel Railways. Among the new advanced degree programs are cybersecurity, and business and data analytics.