Will thousands of young students be forced to change their plans for aliyah? Thousands of immigrant students face cuts in scholarships given to them by Israel's Student Authority.
Having held intense discussions on the matter with the Prime Minister's Office, the Treasury and the Jewish Agency, the Absorption Ministry said there does not appear to be a solution in sight.
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Financial aid for thousands of student olim is set to be frozen including the funding of preparatory courses, Hebrew ulpans and all academic studies in the coming school year. The freeze is set to go into effect as early as July. "This gravely hurts thousands of immigrant students and compromises the aliyah of youngsters," the Absorption Ministry said.
"I'm in shock," says Sara Hasenson, 21, a first year Biology student at the Bar-Ilan University. Sara moved to Israel from Sweden three years ago. "My counselors at the Student Authority explained that the state won’t be funding my and my fellow olim's scholarships next year," she told Ynet. "I don't know what to do, I'm suppose to be registering for the next school year soon."
Aliyah now in danger? Young olim arrive in Israel (Photo: AFP)
Having left her parents and three brothers in Sweden, Sara explained, "I'm completely dependent on this scholarship. I have no money to fund my studies here. In Sweden studies are free, my parents never saved up for this."
She added, "I love Israel and it's my only home. As far as I'm concerned my life is here. I have come here to stay, to make a life for myself in Israel, but if I can't study I will have to go back to Sweden. If I don't study I will always be dependent on the money I get from the state. That's not how I want to live."
No other source of funding
Students from the Hebrew University are planning to protest the freeze during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem next week. Sara and her friend, Tamar Spector, 20, who made aliyah from New York, are planning to attend the protest.
"Most of the young olim have no money or families to sustain them and fund their studies," Tamar says. "I made aliyah because I believe this is my homeland. I am a proud Zionist but I need the help of the government in my first years here."
The Israel Student Authority's budget amounts to NIS 70 million ($16.68 million) a year, and until 2008 was equally divided between the Absorption Ministry and the Jewish Agency. In 2009, the Jewish Agency announced a cut of its share from NIS 35 million ($ 8.84 million) to NIS 16 million (roughly $4 million).
A total of 6,500 students received scholarships from the Student Authority in the past four years.
'We warned the PM's Office'
Absorption Ministry Director-General Dmitri Apartsev told Ynet that thousands of students will require the Student Authority's aid this year. "This year the Jewish Agency announced it wishes to cut its remaining share of the budget, NIS 16 million, which will severely harm the function of the Student Authority.
"Following heavy lateral cuts imposed on the Absorption Ministry, we cannot fund the Student Authority which is now unable to issue aid approvals before the beginning of the school year."
Apartsev said that the ministry had warned the PM's Office and the Finance Ministry of such an occurrence.
Founded in 1968, the Israel Student Authority funds the tuition of all student olim and provides stipends for some immigrants, usually from Ethiopia, the Caucasus and Bukhara.
Jewish Agency Secretary General Josh Schwartz told the Knesset's Education Committee that the agency is discussing the matter with the government and stressed that it will not pull its funds without first coordinating the move with the government. He promised to provide the NIS 16 million.
Tomer Velmer contributed to this report
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