For five years now, the Ministry of Education and the Council for Higher Education's Planning and Budgeting Committee have been in agreement over the need to unite two colleges that share the same campus: Achva - Academic College for Education and the Academic College Achva. Nonetheless, it has not happened. Each college still has a separate administration, thus wasting several million shekels a year.

"Even though there is overall agreement on the unification, ongoing incompetence is preventing it from taking place," a source involved in the matter told Haaretz.

Achva - Academic College for Education, near Kiryat Malakhi, was founded in 1971. It offers a broad range of B.A. and M.A. programs and has a student body of about 1,530. Academic College Achva began operations on the same campus in 1997 as part of the original Achva, but since 2000 has been considered a separate organization under the academic auspices of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. It has a student body of about 1,400.

Even though the two institutions are funded by two different bodies - the former by the Planning and Budgeting Committee and the latter by the Education Ministry - they share the same infrastructure and even the same enrollment registry.

"We were never asked about it; we simply decided to unify the registry," said Ra'anan Shrir of the College for Education. "It was silly to compete with one another."

Shrir said this move raised the total number of students who came to study at the two colleges.

Moreover, the two executive committees hold their meetings simultaneously - though they keep separate minutes - in order to avoid a situation in which "one executive committee makes a decision that necessarily influences the other college," Shrir said. "This is an impossible situation."

Various estimates put the wage costs of the two college presidents and the two executive directors at NIS 2.4 million each year. This means that if the colleges merged, it would be possible to save half that amount.

Shrir said that merging the colleges would also allow them to combine academic programs with a school of education.

"The Education Ministry could easily achieve significantly improved teaching quality, without it costing anything, while also achieving greater efficiency," he said.

The proposal for merging the colleges was first raised in the 2004 Dovrat Report on education reform. In early 2005, the Education Ministry and the Planning and Budgeting Committee decided to merge the two, but the process stopped when the government changed. Several months later, the heads of both colleges asked the new education minister, Yuli Tamir, to resume the process.

Yet even though all parties appear to support the merger, the matter has not progressed.

In response, the Education Ministry said in a statement that "unification of the Achva college is currently being discussed. At a meeting we held on this matter, it was agreed that the college would prepare a position paper for another discussion of the matter." The ministry added that it has not yet received this paper.

Shrir, however, said the college was never asked to submit a new document - but will now do so as soon as possible, as it did in the past.

The Planning and Budgeting Committee said in a statement that "a steering committee is being formed whose purpose is to implement the plan to merge the two colleges while preserving the [separate] organizations that manage them. The PBC hopes all the parties involved will make an effort that will lead to unification in the coming academic year."