Another year, another strike? Professor Menachem Megidor, chairman of the Council of University Presidents (CUP), urged Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni, who is currently holding coalition talks in order to form a new government, to get involved in the crisis threatening to delay the launch of the new academic school year, otherwise "the academic school year will not start on time, which will cause great distress to the students."
"The educational system is crashing and no one in the government seems to care," said Megidor on Monday. "All of our attempts to reach an understanding with the Finance Ministry have been have encountered nothing but contempt and indifference as to how the grave situation academia is in."
Megidor's appeal followed the universities' recent failure in the funding negotiations with the Treasury. Hectic negotiations between the Finance Ministry and CUP's financial administrators, Professor Shlomo Grossman and Steven Stav, have been ongoing for several weeks.
According to Stav, CUP is operating under the premise that is would have to suspend the beginning of the school year: "The academic school system has been in crisis for the last several years, a crisis that threatens the existence of the next academic school year. If that happens, this would be the third year in a row that we see the academic year suspended."
"We are aware that certain issues, such as tuition fees are politically sensitive, but it is inconceivable a political disagreement could endanger the future of an educational system so pivotal to the existence, security and welfare of the State of Israel," said a source in the Council of University Presidents.
The talks' major bone of contention seems to be the implementation of the Shochat Report: According to the Shochat Committee for reform in higher education, the higher education is to be allotted additional finding to the amount of NIS 2.4 billion (approx. $639.7 million), over a five-year period.
The funds, the report noted, are meant to replenish a deficit caused by several years of budgetary cutback, which have rendered the universities depleted.
The Shochat Committee also recommended tuition fees be increased, but the proposed move encountered fierce objection by the students and a lengthy student strike, which was resolved only after the government agreed not to grant the universities requests on tuition fees without including the students in any such decision.
The Finance Ministry's refusal to grant the universities the funds recommended in the Shochat Report without a guaranteed raise in tuition fees has resulted in the negotiations being deadlocked.