State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss blasted the Council for Higher Education for what he said was a failure to properly serve the public interest, in a report released Tuesday on special programs funded outside the universities' regular budgets. Five years after a decision was taken not to approve any new programs of this kind, the CHE has not enforced the decision, the comptroller's report said.

The special programs use university facilities but are not funded through the state. Students in the programs pay substantially higher tuition than other students at the schools, and sometimes earn degrees in less time. Some of the programs also have less rigorous admissions standards and are frequently tailored to professionals in various fields.

The universities have continued to open new off-budget programs, Lindenstrauss' report said, and the Council for Higher Education and its budget and planning committee have known about it and failed to act. The council said between 2000 and 2009, Israel's institutions of higher education suffered severe state funding cuts, causing major deficits at some schools that required them to institute efficiency measures and look for other sources of income. The special off-budget programs were a means to enable the schools to head off economic collapse, the CHE said, but some of the programs were opened without approval.

Lindenstrauss' report specifically cited what it said was improprieties at Tel Aviv and Bar-Ilan universities that ran counter to basic budgeting requirements. The lecturers in the special courses were paid without the CHE's planning and budgeting committee's approval at rates sometimes substantially higher than what is permitted, the report said. Tel Aviv University ran 19 special off-budget courses during the last academic year, none of which had CHE approval. Bar-Ilan, according to the report, had 30 special programs, including some which much more lax than its regular admissions requirements and some that fell below the CHE's minimum standards.

Bar-Ilan University said it has begun addressing the concerns raised by the comptroller and noted that some were already addressed after an internal examination by the university's rector.

Tel Aviv University said its special programs offer advanced education to senior managers and professionals in various fields, funded by the students themselves. Since the special courses have counterparts among regular course offerings, the university is of the opinion that no special approval for them is required. The courses have generated funds that also help finance the regular courses offered at the university, the school administration noted.