students HUJI - Shiran Granot - 27122011
Physics students at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Photo by Shiran Granot
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The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is requiring some of its physics students to check each other's homework because it doesn't have enough money to pay faculty members to do the job.

The shortage of lecturer hours is one of the complaints raised by junior lecturers across the country, who went on a one-day strike on Sunday to protest their work conditions. They are asking for a total of NIS 60 million in total to go toward improving conditions in all the country's universities. Negotiations are underway.

Yuval Sadan, a Hebrew University sophomore majoring in physics and math, said the students were suffering both from the lack of a professional assessment of their work and from the extra work they were being forced to do.

"We're paying for our studies and expect to get our assignments checked," he said. "We don't have time to check two assignments for every assignment we hand in."

The student union for the university's Givat Ram campus has asked the deans of natural sciences and educational affairs to check whether students can really be forced to grade the work of their peers.

The students could get a lower grade if they don't check two assignments for every one they hand in, according to the syllabus for the course on optic waves. Every assignment is graded by two student graders who don't know whose work they are assessing.

Although the class does have a university-assigned grader, the school is paying him for only four hours of work a week, even though there are more than 100 students in the class.

"The university and the Council for Higher Education must internalize that the quality of instruction and the services the students receive constitute the foundation of the progress and existence of academia in Israel," said Hebrew University Student Union chairman Itai Gutler.

Yitczhak Tuchman, an associate professor of theoretical physics at Hebrew University, said the grading issue goes far beyond a single class. "Because of the budgetary problems in the natural sciences, the students' assignments are not being graded," he said. "That is a betrayal of part of the university's commitments. Today, only some assignments are graded - you can grade one out of five or just tell everyone the full solutions so the students can grade themselves.

"There are undoubtedly not enough resources to grade, and that is clearly improper," Tuchman continued. "The answer is clearly money."

Hebrew University said in a statement that since the grading budget is limited, the physics department has adopted the peer-review method used by the California Institute of Technology.

"Physics majors are mature and talented and have high intellectual ability," the university said. "It is therefore natural to rely on them in academic assignments of this type."

Read this article in Hebrew