Sunday, May 06, 2007

Student Strike to Shut Down Tel Aviv University

Tel Aviv University

Leaders of the student union will close down Tel Aviv University beginning on Monday morning. They have chained the gates shut, and will not let anyone enter the campus. For the past week, students throughout the country have been demonstrating against tuition increases.

As far as I understand Education Minister Yuli Tamir (Labor), a former professor, has made an offer to the students that would see a 3% decrease in their tuition. However, the students are now holding out with the demand that changes in tuition ought to be arrived at through negotiations between students and the government rather than being imposed on them. The ministry of education is refusing to acquiesce to these demands (Ha'aretz, English).

The escalation in the students' tactics follows a threat by "Vera" (וועדת ראשי האויניברסיטאות, the Committee of the Heads of the Universities) that students taking part in strikes and not attending classes will lose the semester. Vera has since withdrawn this ultimatum, but strikes are going ahead anyway (Ynet). Student leaders interviewed on national radio said that they wanted to demonstrate the unity of the entire student body (Gala"tz, Monday 7:30 am Israel Time).

Nehemia Strasler, in a recent Ha'aretz piece, "The students should also pay," criticizes the opposition of the student union leadership to the original reforms proposed by the Shohat Committee, which would have seen an increase in tuition fees. Tuition fees currently pay for 16% of the universities' budgets, while the "evil and miserly state funds 70 percent of it" (Strasler), and private donations cover the remaining 14%.

Strasler seems to be especially angry about the rhetoric used by the student union leadership:
(...) all of these logical arguments make no impression on the student leaders. Itay Sonschein, chairman of the National Students Union and the leader of the strike, has disproportionate revolutionary zeal. He sees the Shochat Committee (which is comprised of the top experts in the field) as a destructive capitalist plot. As far as he is concerned, everything is justified for the sake of dismantling the committee, chalking up a victory and proceeding up the trajectory of party politics - and to hell with what is good for academia and the economy.
There is a sense among quite a few people in the country that Israel is moving inexorably toward "Americanization" and that the "weaker sectors" are bearing a disproportionate burden. I am not an economist, but Israel's social and economic problems are serious enough to merit more attention than they have been receiving over the past decade. It's unfortunate, however, that at a time like this student leaders are playing "revolutions" in order to fulfill their juvenile fantasies and ambitions.


Anonymous said...

As for shtrosller or shtrasller or what ever. All this is well and correct all have high ideals of justice, fairness and so on. But in a small way you should realise what S. knows very well. This is about new money market. Saving for high ed. and loans for high ed. all backed by the gov. Like the house morgage market it is a huge supper big business which did not exist till now and which the gov. is building for the banks. Talk about socialism, capitalism and the evil of subsidies.

Amos said...

Well, it sounds like everyone would benefit, no?

What does Stanley Fischer think about this?

ariel said...

I'm surprise at you, Amos. Are the students really that bad? There have been some nasty things going on in the administration of the Israeli academy in the last few years (part of that Americanization you spoke of, no doubt), and I'm not sure that allowing students some decision making power isn't preferable to the other options. I really don't know many of the details, but it seems to me that the growth of (expensive) private colleges and the virtual impossibility of getting accepted to certain faculties at Tel Aviv and the Hebrew U. merit more government support of higher education, not less.

Amos said...

Read the Shtrasler article. The reforms proposed by the Shohat committee would have increased funding to the universities, he argues. While tuition would have increased, the actual amounts that students would have to pay would have decreased. Right now, the system hurts poor students the most.

I don't want Israeli universities to charge the incredible sums that American students have to pay at private universities (though the U.S. also has an amazing, privately-financed system of need-based fellowships).

I don't know if anyone has ever done a study on this, but I actually think that for students from lower and lower-middle class homes it is actually cheaper to attend American universities (thanks to the financial aid programs) than public universities in Canada or Israel. This is definitely true for the Ivy League schools.

Anonymous said...

Amos, nice to agree with you, or to back you with factual data, though just one observation. Some Israelis did it very many years ago, very many. In the fifties you did not pay to study in some Junior collages in Cal. USA immigration laws were not lax but bearable. Even then, when Israel was realy poor and the $ was very high, if one could make it in the first freshman year one could go and go to PhD, and many did, some came back and some stayed, some are now emeritus faculty in various U in Cal. The financial load on parents families left in Israel was lighter than on those supporting a student in Israel. And one did not go to army reserves.