Hebrew University, Jerusalem
Photo: Ron Peled
Olmert. Causing educational crisis?
Photo: Reuters

'Government ignoring higher education crisis'

Following lack of government response to Shochat Report about higher education in Israel, Prof. Yaari wonders about future of Israeli academics. 'Lack of budget for research, lecturers points to rapid decline,' he says

In July 2007 Prime Minister Ehud Olmert received an official report about the status of higher education in Israel from the Israel Council for Higher Education, headed by former Minister of Finance Avraham (Baige) Shochat.


The council set out to interpret why the universities in Israel had undergone a "deep structural crisis" during recent years, and to offer solutions. Following the submission of the report, Shochat said he had his doubts as to its speedy application in all of the different fields suggested, but he was faced with an even bigger problem than he had imagined.


According to Prof. Menahem Yaari, president of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the report was totally ignored. Yaari has even launched a letter to Prime Minister Olmert, Finance Minister Ronnie Bar-On, and Education Minister Yuli Tamir in which he asks, "What happened to the Shochat Report?"


According to Yaari, the government's agreement to pay university lecturers salary erosion compensation was their minimal investment in the matter, and the large strike that kicked off the school year was evidence of all that was not being done.


"All of the criteria used to measure the quality of higher education – average age of the academic staff, student/lecturer ratio, research budgets, etc. – point to its obvious decline in Israel," Yaari claims. "Israel's government is sitting on its hands while our higher education is being destroyed."


When asked whether any of the report's suggestions had been implemented, Yaari said they hadn't. "The budget cuts were not returned to the universities, and no one is willing to listen to ideas about the improvement of their resources."


Aversion to intellectualism

As to his letter, Yaari has not yet been granted a reply from the prime minister. "The total lack of response demonstrates what the leading politicians think of us professors," he said.


Yaari assimilates this to a growing trend evident in the country, which he terms "an anti-intellectual inclination." In his opinion the country's leaders are quick to cast aside higher education on the pretense that army training is enough to create new blood for the high-tech community, which they see as Israel's leading resource. The trend "is the modern Israeli version of the aversion to intellectualism," he said.


It is as yet unclear whether Yaari will be able to get his message across to the leaders of Israel, but in any case, he claims, the system will not heal itself. "It will only worsen with time, because the economic crisis is causing academic departments to close their doors to new researchers," he said.


Pointing to the dismal salaries awaiting those who do decide to become employed by Israeli universities, a dire contrast to salaries offered by universities abroad, Yaari struggled to remain hopeful. "Many of them dream of coming to Israel, even if it means working for less pay. But they are wary of the future of academics in Israel," he said.


פרסום ראשון: 05.03.08, 17:26
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