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The Knesset plenum on Monday approved the preliminary reading of a bill that would increase the higher education budget by NIS 1.8 billion and freeze tuition fees for five years, in opposition to the position of Finance Minister Roni Bar-On.

The bill, initiated by MK Haim Oron (Meretz), would also put in place measures to strengthen colleges in the nation's periphery.

Fifty MKs voted for the bill, including four Kadima MKs and David Azoulay from Shas. Twenty five MKs voted against, including three from Labor. There were four abstentions.

Shas ministers, angry over the expected appointment of Avishay Braverman as chairman of the Knesset's Finance Committee, opposed the bill.

MK Oron said the Knesset had been enlisted to rescue the higher education system and to ensure the beginning of the coming academic year would take place. He regretted the absence of Labor from the vote, accusing its members of preferring to ensure Braverman's appointment rather than helping to solve a national crisis.

In a discussion of the bill 10 days ago, Finance Minister Bar-On said, "If you vote for the bill you will be responsible for its results. We won't agree to wanton payments of wages to people who don't provide a service."

"There are lecturers at the universities satisfied working zero to three hours a week and it's impossible to tell them a word," Bar-On added. "The Council for Higher Education doesn't give us financial reports for checking and it's all in the name of academic freedom. In this situation it's impossible to manage a system that aspires to excellence."