Finance Ministry Demands Israeli Students Agree to Tuition Hike

Representatives from the ministry's Budget Department meet with student union leaders, say they will act unilaterally if students refuse.

The Finance Ministry is planning a substantial tuition increase in higher education institutions and is also exploring the possibility of cutting the institutions’ budgets, Haaretz has learned, following a meeting Monday night between representatives of the ministry’s Budget Department and Uri Rashtik, the chairman of the National Union of Israeli Students.

The Finance Ministry representatives demanded that the students' union participate in the negotiations over the tuition increase, according to a union spokesperson. If they refuse, the treasury would unilaterally institute the increase and slash budgets for the higher education system. University tuition for a bachelor’s degree is NIS 9,979 per year and NIS 13,485 for a master’s degree. Tuition at public colleges and research universities is partially subsidized.

Rashtik said he was told that if the students agreed to the tuition hike, the budget for higher education would in effect not be cut, as higher tuition fees would increase the schools’ income and replace the government subsidies.

As TheMarker reported in January, officials in the higher education system surmise that tuition is expected to increase by dozens of percentage points by year’s end. This is because a 2010 agreement between the state and the students, which said tuition would not be raised without the students’ consent, expires in October.

The financial state of the country's higher education system is precarious at best. Over the past three years, the Finance Ministry has transferred budget supplements to higher education institutions that have seen their budgets eroded over time. The supplements are transferred as part of a multi-year reform, which totals NIS 7.5 billion overall.

So far, though, the Finance Ministry has transferred the funds that were allocated for the first two years of a six-year program. Recently, the heads of all the higher-education institutions, including universities and colleges, united with student and staff representatives to fight the potential budget cuts. The Knesset’s Finance Committee also joined the call, urging the government not to cut funding toward higher education. Professor Manuel Trajtenberg, chairman of the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education, expressed concern over the possible budget cuts as well.

Student representatives recently met with Finance Minister Yair Lapid and asked him not to cut the higher education budget. Lapid told them that students were “the country’s future.” Rashtik said he asked the Finance Ministry representatives how a prospective tuition hike “is in line with the finance minister’s promise of a ‘decade of education’ during which schooling and higher education would be top priority?”

“The Finance Ministry attaches great importance to higher education," it said in a statement. "The state budget requires that difficult decisions be made. We are in the process of putting together a budget that will be submitted first to the finance minister.”
 

Students walking at Tel Aviv University.
David Bachar