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The Knesset enacted a law yesterday granting demobilized soldiers and those who have completed civilian national service full scholarships for their first year in university - as long as they enroll in an institution located in the Negev, the Galilee, Jerusalem or the West Bank.

But Ben-Gurion University, which is located in Be'er Sheva, was excluded from the list of approved institutions - a fact the school protested vehemently, noting it is the only unversity in the Negev. The region's other academic institutions are all colleges.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem was also excluded, but has apparently been told it will be added to the list next year in honor of Jerusalem Day.

The new law will apply to anyone finishing his or her service after the start of 2010.

The law also provides demobilized soldiers, national service graduates and all residents of the Negev and Galilee with various other academic benefits: full scholarships to a one-year university preparatory program, employment counseling and a 50-percent tuition discount during subsequent years.

MK Gila Gamliel (Likud ), who co-sponsored the bill with MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beiteinu ), said it would significantly reduce social gaps by making higher education more accessible to everyone. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the law, describing it as "the least we can give to those who guard our security day and night."

The National Student Union also welcomed the law, which chairman Boaz Toporovsky termed "an important decision to strengthen the periphery with a student population that will bring new energy to national priority areas."