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A secret report written by the Council for Higher Education, which supervises Israel's universities, claims that wage irregularities are costing nearly half a billion shekels a year. The report, dated November 2006, says that most of the problems had already been explored in a report from 2003, but they hadn't been corrected. "The universities regard our comments as a nuisance," states the report, which was compiled by the Wages and Administration Division of the council's Planning and Budgets arm.

If anything, the report's estimate is probably short of reality, because it omits irregularities in sabbatical payments, and does not quantify improper payments to non-entitled parties. Nor does it discuss problems with the universities' pension provisions for staffers.

About half the amount, NIS 258 million a year, is excess pay to high-ranking administrators (as opposed to the teaching staff), based on personal employment agreements. The Council report charges that the universities allowed administrators to earn more than they should have under civil-service regulations because of "past commitments." The Council report agrees with the lecturers, now on their 57th day of striking over pay, that their wages have eroded. The Council and lecturers sharply differ on the extent of the erosion: The lecturers say 35 percent, the Council says 3 percent.

Yet some lecturers get paid more than they should, says the Council, calculating that the excess due to remuneration irregularities amounts to NIS 114 million a year. That figure relates only to lecturers who have seriously neglected their teaching duties, meaning, they teach up to three hours a week; the standard is six hours of instruction a week. In other words, the Council ignored lecturers who taught only four or five weekly hours, based on the assumption that these were borderline cases. It also says that roughly 30 percent of the lecturers are teaching too little.

Teaching hours isn't the only problem. The universities are also generous with grant money, which should be payable only to lecturers who work at the institutions full-time. That applies to 70 percent of the teaching staff, yet some 85 percent get grants. The Council estimates that this costs the taxpayer about NIS 45 million a year. And, excess "convalescence pay" (havra'a) costs NIS 29 million a year.

The universities also wax generous when it comes to doling out bonuses to the undeserving, says the Council, but qualifies that even though it's the watchdog - it can't quantify the cost of that laxness.

Moving on to sabbaticals, at least one academic institution allowed its lecturers to accrue sabbatical time (which is supposed to be devoted to research) for their pensions. Or, simply, it allowed its lecturers to retire early at the expense of unused sabbatical years.

Altogether the Council estimates that the various wage irregularities, on administrators and teaching staff, are costing NIS 464 million a year, and that's a conservative estimate. The Council of University Presidents, which runs the universities, refused to comment for this report.