Daily Israel Report

University Students Refuse to Return to Studies

University students have launched an open-ended boycott of classes, in an effort to force the government to reduce tuition and increase the budget.
By Nissan Ratzlav-Katz
First Publish: 4/10/2007, 4:47 PM

University and college studies resumed Tuesday, following the end of the Passover holiday vacation - but the nation's 250,000 students at state-supported institutions won't be attending.
 
A nationwide organization representing university students has launched an open-ended boycott of classes, in an effort to force the government to reduce tuition and increase the budget for higher education.

"After the war, we discover that the Prime Minister is not prepared even to return our call." - Itai Sonschein, Student Union Chairman

Itai Sonschein, chairman of the national union of students, explained to Arutz-7's Hebrew newsmagazine the aims of the current boycott: "We struggled with the Education Ministry for four months. Our protest now is against the Prime Minister. We are waiting for his signature authorizing the addition to the [higher education] budget. This, after agreements we reached with the Minister of Education and the Prime Minister were not fulfilled, such as promises that the members of the [Shochat] Commission would be people without personal interests in the matter, etc."

The Shochat Commission, which the student union wants to see disbanded, was established in November 2006 with the goal of making recommendations for higher education reform. Among suggested means of improving Israel's university system, the Shochat Commission proposed raising student tuition and lowering professors' salaries.

The Prime Minister, Sonschein explained further, has refused to discuss the students' concerns with their representatives: "It is quite grave that when we went to war it was after he asked us to fight and defend the nation; yet, after the war, we discover that the Prime Minister is not prepared even to return our call."

In place of the Shochat Commission, the student union demands a return to the recommendations of a previous government-appointed education reform commission, known as the Winograd Commission [not to be confused with the commission currently investigating the Second Lebanon War]. In 2001-2002, the Commission concluded that university tuition should be reduced by 50 percent.

The student union has already gone on strike against the Shochat Commission once this year, in January. At the time, the student union shut down 10 universities over its demand for greater representation on the commission's panel of experts.

A spokesman for the Shochat Commission, Eli Shaked, reacted to the student union's latest boycott by saying, "It pains me that the students decided to act in such an immature and irresponsible fashion, and to back out of the agreement reached with the Minister of
The Shochat Commission proposed raising student tuition and lowering professors' salaries.
Education about a month ago. The Commission is vigorously continuing its work, in order to conclude the presentation of its recommendations in the set time frame."

On Tuesday, Chairman of the Knesset Education Committee, MK Rabbi Michael Melchior (Labor) announced that he will convene a special session of the committee next Sunday, despite the parliamentary recess. "We will not stand idly by while the entire higher education system is collapsing," MK Melchior declared. "We must urgently tackle this deep crisis." According to Melchior, he is inviting all relevant spokesmen to attend the session, including Education Minister Yuli Tamir, as well as representatives of the Finance Ministry, the Council for Higher Education, the student unions and the leading state-supported universities.
 
In a related item, high school and junior high school teachers will strike tomorrow, in protest of what they see as the Finance Ministry's "stalling" in the negotiations over their salary demands and other reforms.  Ministry officials say the decision is "strange," in light of substantial negotiations held over the past weeks.