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The coordinating forum of the junior university staff associations, which represents some 12,000 graduate students, PhD students and junior lecturers, has for several weeks been negotiating employment terms with the university heads committee. The junior staff is protesting the low pay of the masters students, who work as tutors and teaching and research assistants, the lack of long-term contracts for PhD students holding similar jobs, and the employment of thousands of lecturers with PhDs from term to term, without any job security.

The organization is also protesting the fact that junior staff have been excluded from the NIS 7.5 billion higher education reform announced last year. The reform is meant to add numerous new senior staff positions to the universities, to lower the student-lecturer ratio.

One lecturer, Dr. Danny Prudovsky, 53, has been an outside lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem for 11 years, teaching only one academic year as a regular lecturer since he acquired his doctorate in Philosophy from Oxford University. He told Haaretz that while he agrees with the universities that new senior staff members' appointments should be based on their academic excellence, he himself is at a disadvantage because the lack of long-term contracts means he did not have the allocated time for research.

The director of the coordinating forum, Dr Daniel Mishori, told Haaretz that the universities and the budgeting and planning committee should come up with a flexible system that "gives people some security - not to use them and throw them away."

The head of the higher education budgeting and planning committee, Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, insists that being an outside lecturer is merely a transitional phase, and that giving them any kind of tenure would damage the higher education system. He said the worst thing for everyone involved was to make a temporary situation permanent, and that the junior staff's ambition should be acquiring senior staff positions.