Tel Aviv University students protest
Photo: Ofer Amram
Photo: Pierre Turgeman
Prof. Menachem Magidor
Photo: Pierre Turgeman

Finance Ministry cuts university budgets by $275M

Higher education council revokes millions already handed to universities, colleges according to Shochat report on higher education in Israel; also freezes additional funds that were to be transferred later. University heads, students outraged

The Council for Higher Education (CHE) notified the presidents of the universities and colleges on Sunday that it was demanding reimbursement for the funds it had transferred to the institutions according to the conclusions of the Shochat report.


Furthermore, additional funds that were to be transferred later have been frozen. This means an additional budget cut for Israel's higher education facilities, which have already suffered losses of 20% of their budget since 2003, altogether NIS 1.3 billion ($388m).


CHE is demanding the institutions return NIS 150M ($44m) from last year's budget, and said it would freeze the NIS 770M ($230m) formerly promised to them for development, research, technology, student services, and welfare.


In a letter signed by Chairman of the Planning and Budgeting Committee Prof. Shlomo Grossman and Council for Higher Education Chairman Steven Stav, the two explain that the cuts are due to the fact that the Shochat report was not implemented.


"The results of the discussions with the Ministry of Finance on the subject of the application of the Shochat report are that the ministry's budget wing refuses to discuss the committee's recommendations before the tuition is raised, and is preventing any discussion on the matter within the government. Thus, we regret that we cannot plan the next academic year or the school year beginning in October," they wrote.


'A scandal'

The Shochat report for reform in higher education, which the government has not yet approved, promised the institutions a budget increase of NIS 1.8 billion ($538m), conditioned upon the application of the report without the original clause mentioning a raise in tuition. The government has not endorsed the report because the Finance Ministry is demanding tuition be raised, as the committee originally recommended.


President of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem Professor Menachem Magidor responded to the decision by saying, "This is a scandal. The Finance Ministry is continuously harming the higher education system. During the next few days the university presidents are scheduled to hold an emergency meeting on the cuts. As you may recall, one month ago the presidents threatened not to open the next academic school year unless the Shochat report budget was transferred immediately."


Stav also slammed the Finance Ministry for the cuts. "Not only did it not return funds, but it is continuing to cut budgets. We are being extorted, because the tuition has not been raised and the higher education system is paying the price. It must be understood that the increase in tuition is not our call, it is a political decision and we should not be the ones to suffer from it," he said, adding that it would be very difficult to launch the new academic school year in the present situation.


The students also expressed their dismay at the decision, and announced their willingness to fight for the reinstitution of the budget. "The students are tiring of finance secretaries that use the Shochat report as subterfuge for the withholding of funds," National Student Union Chairman Boaz Toporovsky said.


"Just as the Shochat report is no longer relevant and as we fought against the report, so will we fight for the transferring of budgets to the higher education system, for the benefit of the State's future. The additional NIS 1.8 billion ($538m) promised to the higher education system constitutes a necessary resuscitation for higher education in Israel."


Ministry's response

The Finance Ministry responded by stating that despite the fact that the government had not approved the Shochat report, the chairman of the planning and budget committee transferred NIS 150m ($44m) out of the NIS 230m ($68m) promised to the institutions in the report without authorization.


"We would also like to point out that the heads of CHE as well as members of the committee for university heads, responsible for the countenance of higher education, chose to promote the increase in salary for senior lecturers rather than the results of the Shochat report," the statement said. It added that the salary increase had totaled NIS 750m ($224m).


The statement also denied allegations that the Finance Ministry was purposefully preventing the government from discussing the Shochat report, and that the budget department was not responsible for the government's daily schedule.


פרסום ראשון: 06.23.08, 01:24
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