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As the university professors strike enters its third week, it appears to many professors that the action is overshadowed by the teachers strike, which appears to garner far more media coverage and public sympathy.

The professors action is considered elitist, encompassing only senior faculty at the universities - not junior or adjunct university professors, nor any college staff.

Junior staff have not joined the strike because they are not and would not be covered by the contract that the senior professors are fighting for.

The universities' managements estimate that 30-50 percent of classes are being held.

University presidents say the strike, "could seriously harm students and endanger the entire semester."

The professors are fighting for a pay hike and a new contract, after the old one expired in 2001. The professors union says the university pay scale has eroded 35 percent since 1997.

Talks with the Finance Ministry have stalled as the union demands the ministry commit to the rate of the future pay raise before conducting its own evaluation of the extent salaries have eroded.

According to union chief Professor Zvi Hacohen, "This is not a battle only for wages, but an honest effort to stop the brain drain." The professors say the wage erosion is part and parcel of other erosion in working conditions such as the undermining of research infrastructure and the deteriorating status of the Israeli academic compared to his overseas counterpart.

Brain drain hits universities

Treasury officials are also aware of the brain drain and that Israeli universities have trouble competing with the research conditions and salaries offered to young researchers abroad. The treasury claims the solution is implementation of the Shochat reform, which students have threatened to block.

The Treasury is willing to grant the professors a 4.7 percent pay hike, similar to an agreement with the Histadrut. The Treasury is also open to discussing a larger wage hike, tied to implementation of the Shochat reform.

The professors union had demanded in the past that the pay hike be distributed according to seniority, which could lead to differences of thousands of shekels between raises for senior faculty and younger staff.

The union is now willing to discuss a different distribution method.

Another dispute revolves around the state-supported pension for professors emeriti.

These pensions, the central cause of deficits in university budgets, are linked to the salaries of active professors. The treasury wants to link them to the Consumer Price Index.