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Ashdod's mayor, Dr. Yehiel Lasri, is planning to transform the southern city into the country's capital of higher education. He has been working on a revolutionary plan that would give every person finishing the army the opportunity to study for a bachelor's degree, thus doubling the number of the city's university students. In the mayor's plan, no one will pay much to complete a B.A.

Lasri has issued a tender for banks, which would provide municipal guarantees for funding the B.A. degrees. The municipality would pay the interest, and the students would be able to repay the loans over seven years after earning their degree or immediately after finding a job.

Half of the loan would be covered in full by the municipality for students who have no means. The municipality has allotted NIS 5-7 million per year in its budget for this and hopes it will cover the cost of the interest rates on the loans.

The tender to banks was issued two weeks ago, and the city is waiting for offers to be made. Prior to approving the plan, Lasri had a survey done and learned that some 40 percent of Ashdod's young people would be interested in studying for a degree if they could get a loan with the terms proposed by the municipality.

"This is a revolutionary and unique program for which we worked on the basis of a belief that education should be available to all, not only those who can afford it," Lasri said. He said the "economic barrier" will fall and said he was certain the number of Ashdod residents who go on to study in academic institutions here "will rise significantly."