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Strike for the Future: Students Outraged Over Internship Fiasco

Threatened with joblessness, students from one of Israel's most highly sought-after degrees push back.
By Tova Dvorin
First Publish: 3/21/2014, 10:46 AM

Taking to the streets: students strike over internships
Taking to the streets: students strike over internships
Shaul Kaner

Physical Therapy students across Israel have gone on full-fledged strike this week, in protest of a precarious situation that leaves potential graduates threatened with the prospect of unemployment. 

The Council of Higher Education in Israel regulates the number of available internships for students, who need to complete 1,000+ hours of clinical work to graduate the four-year Bachelor's program. But due to a shortage in available internship positions - a crisis strikers say the Council has known about for some time - hundreds of students could be left jobless, unable to graduate.

Students and staff have united for the strike, which is expected to continue for several weeks. 

Demonstration at Kiryat Ono

One of the major issues is the opening of a new program at Kiryat Ono academic college, which has tightened the competition for internship spots. The program is privately funded, strikers note, sparking outrage at the notion that the administration is "buying their way in" to the highly-coveted spaces for their students. 

On Thursday, students took to the streets to voice their dissent. 

Credit: Shaul Kaner

"Students from different major universities came together to show solidarity, and unity, in fighting the current crisis in the physical therapy profession," Chanan Baruch, a first-year student at Ariel University, stated in an interview with Arutz Sheva Friday. "What they’re trying to do is drum up attention, in order to get support from anyone who will listen." 

Credit: Shaul Kaner

"The Council needs to see that it’s not just the students who care - that this is an issue not just for us, but for the faculty and staff, for other students in health-related programs, and for the future of the job market in Israel," Baruch continued. 

Credit: Shaul Kaner

Students just want to graduate

Ariel Mayerfeld, a student representative for Ariel University's program during the strike, spoke to Arutz Sheva about the strike's aims. 

"What the students want is very simple," Mayerfeld stated, noting that "the Council's committee themselves admitted" that the demands of the strike are justified. The aim: to shut down the Physiotherapy program in Kiryat Ono immediately - to make room for students in publicly-funded universities - and for the Council to arrange for an end to the internship crisis, by opening up more slots and taking preventative measures for the future. 

Mayerfeld stressed that the strike is not against the students themselves at Kiryat Ono, who have already been offered acceptance at programs from the major universities if the new program is shuttered.

The real issue, Mayerfeld emphasized, is with the Council itself - who has known that the problem has been snowballing all along, causing countless students to have completed degree programs but fall short of graduating. 

A video about the strike from the University of Haifa noted that the real fear is far deeper: that the concept of "favoritism" in internships may bring down the quality of healthcare in Israel, by leaving the best students at publicly-funded programs without the chance the practice their chosen profession. 

The college responded in a statement to Arutz Sheva, decrying the protests as harming the rights of other students.

"We're sorry that students at competing institutions find it necessary to speak out against their fellow students in the profession, and attempt to deny them their right to education and freedom of occupation," the statement read.

"Even worse, this denial harms the general public who are currently forced to wait months for a proper physical therapy. Therefore, they turn to the private market where they pay for it out of their pocket, at considerable expensive. The most recent State Comptroller’s report pointed out these facts and explicitly stated that there is a shortage of physiotherapists.

"It is important to note that all 43 students of the Department of Physiotherapy at Ono Academic College are ensured practical training at the best clinics in the country, which do not come at the expense of placements for students of other academic institutions. Rather, these are additional places," the college explained.

"We believe that the Council of Higher Education will make the right decision about continuing the activities of the Physical Therapy Department at Ono Academic College, ignoring external forces who have a conflict of interest."