Students threaten protest over rumors of cuts

National Union of Israeli Students says information on cutbacks in higher education came from Finance Ministry.

Bar Ilan Universtyi students college lawn hanging out 390 (photo credit: Courtesy Bar Ilan University)
Bar Ilan Universtyi students college lawn hanging out 390
(photo credit: Courtesy Bar Ilan University)
As budget talks take place, rumors of cutbacks in higher education – later denied by Finance Minister Yair Lapid – sparked controversy on Monday as representatives of the National Union of Israeli Students claimed the Treasury intends to reduce the higher education budget if students don’t agree to an increase in tuition fees.
The union said the information came from a Finance Ministry official.
Students from across the country have threatened to take to the streets following the rumors.
The National Union of Israeli Students wrote Monday on its Facebook page that increasing tuition and cutting the higher education budget will cause severe harm to Israeli society. It reposted a picture of Finance Minister Yair Lapid with the caption: “The minister of finance is asking to increase tuition. It’s only fair: If the minister did not earn a degree, no one should.”
The Hebrew University’s student organization also addressed the issue in a published statement and stressed that, “Education is the key to growth in the Israeli economy and it is time to think a little ahead. They promised us the ‘decade of education’ and it seems we’re only going to get education for the rich.”
Via Facebook on Monday morning, Lapid denied that he intended to increase tuition and pointed a finger at the union for starting unfounded controversy.
As he addressed students, Lapid wrote: “You have been played. I got up this morning and found out war was declared against cutbacks that never existed,” he said.
“When I came to the Treasury I was promised there will be quite a few spins, but this is ridiculous.”
In his post, Lapid explained that union representatives only spread such rumors in order to have him deny them later and make it appear as if he had caved in to them.
“It’s a little sad that the youngest public officials use the oldest tricks in politics,” he said. “And if I thought that harm would be caused to students, I would have gone over to my house to protest against myself.”
Later Tuesday, Lapid spoke to Finance Ministry officials to clarify what happened, and was told that they did not issue an ultimatum to the NUIS, Channel 2 reported.
Rather, the Finance Ministry officials wanted to discuss what the sides would do after a previously- signed agreement between them on funding for higher education expires in September.
Labor MK and former head of the student union Itzik Shmuli reacted to Lapid’s statement and called on the minister to strengthen his relationship with the officials who seem to be spreading information on his behalf.
Shmuli said that Lapid’s claim that the information was invented by the union is outrageous.
“It is strange that the finance minister did not see fit to come [to the Knesset] for a special discussion on economic measures and instead chose to answer through Facebook,” he added.
Lahav Harkov contributed to this report.