MKs Denounce Education Min. Tenders as Privatization

The Education Ministry is publishing tenders to run a long list of educational programs, raising accusations by Knesset members that it is prizatizing education.

The tenders are for programs including college preparatory programs, the center for absorbing Ethiopian immigrant students and the Culture Basket, which subsidizes art and culture in schools. Some of the tenders have already ended, and winners have been chosen.

This week, the Knesset Education, Culture and Sports Committee demanded that the ministry freeze the tenders. In response, the ministry said the tenders were required by law.

One of the main projects is the college preparatory programs, which every year prepare 11,000 students to begin higher education. The programs' management recently was transferred from the Society for the Advancement of Education (Ha'aguda Lekidum Hahinuch) to Marmanet, the company that won the tender.

"This is not only an administrative matter of gathering information," said a source from one of the preparatory programs. "The treatment of the students, many of whom faced failures in the regular educational system, requires a large pedagogical investment. Our fear is that the weaker groups will be the first to suffer from this change."

MK Zevulun Orlev (Habayit Hayehudi), the chairman of the Education Committee, said the tenders essentially mean the ministry's core pedagogical and professional activities are being privatized.

"The finance and defense ministries cannot be privatized; likewise, educational services cannot be privatized, either. We must exempt such projects from tenders, similar to the exemption from tenders given to the universities," said Orlev.

Former education minister Yuli Tamir (Labor), said at the committee session: "The social and educational benefit of these projects is enormous compared to the financial expenses they are trying to save."

"The college prepatory programs have been around for 30 years, during which time we excelled in integrating youth from the periphery into the higher education system," stated the Society for the Advancement of Education. "We hope a proper solution can be found to return the program to the society."

In addition to the demand that the ministry freeze the tenders, the Education Committee decided to work with the Finance Committee to enable educational projects to be exempted from the Tenders Law.

The ministry said it is looking for a way to publish a new tender for the Culture Basket project. The tender for managing the center for Ethiopian immigrant students ended, but no winner has been selected yet, said the ministry.

The ministry also said that there is nothing new about the so-called privatization, that the bodies that run the various programs were never part of the ministry, and that everything is being conducted in keeping with the law.

"If legislators want to change the law, then they can do so," stated the ministry. As for the college preparatory programs, the ministry said Marmanet "met all the conditions of the tender. We are convinced that after a transition period, the new franchisee will run the service as expected."