Israel's Finance Ministry Intends to Slash Higher Education Budget

Treasury plans to cut some 263 million shekels after 175 million were trimmed in 2014.

David Bachar

The Finance Ministry revealed on Wednesday its plans to cut 263 million shekels ($70 million) from the higher education budget for 2015-2016, part of a likely 720-million-shekel slash to the Education Ministry’s overall budget.

A committee of university presidents, heads of colleges and the National Union of Israeli Students protested the treasury’s intention – the second consecutive cut to this budget, after 175 million shekels was trimmed last year. In 2014, the budget for higher education was 9.2 billion shekels ($4.5 billion), compared to 8.8 billion in 2013. The Education Ministry’s budget already sustained a cut of half a billion shekels last year.

In a letter sent by university presidents to cabinet ministers, they wrote that “if this cut is approved, it will constitute the largest cut to higher education in the last decade, and the results will be extremely destructive. They will lead to a reduction in fruitful research by Israel’s academics, a lowered quality of instruction for students and a reduced ability of research institutions in Israel to compete with the international academic world. It will also stop the recruitment of returning scientists and cause damage to academic institutions, with their tens of thousands of academic and administrative staff working in dozens of institutions.”

Prof. Peretz Lavie, president of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa and head of the university presidents’ committee, said that “a five-year plan was designed five years ago by Manuel Trajtenberg, in an attempt to compensate for the previous decade in which manpower had been severely slashed due to budgetary constraints. The plan was designed to enable universities to recruit the missing academicians by, among other measures, setting up centers of excellence.”

Lavie added that “last year 175 million shekels were cut, with 236 million more to be cut this year. I’ve recruited 150 staff members in my six years as president. The average expenses are $15-16 million a year, all coming from donations. How can one build a five-year plan knowing that growth is stopped in years four and five? How can such a plan be taken seriously? I understand the difficulties when there is a security catastrophe, but coalition agreements are diverting funds to other targets. We’re taken for granted – we don’t have a political lobby and masses of voters. They say ‘those professors will find a way.’ Somehow it’s not understood that countries are evaluated by the power of their higher education. Germany, France and China have been investing enormous amounts in their universities in recent years.”

The Finance Ministry said in response that “the 2016 budget has a gap between state revenues and anticipated expenses, necessitating across-the-board improvement in the efficiency of ministries in order to reduce expenses, in accordance with given budgetary frameworks. The treasury’s budget division has left it up to each ministry to decide where to cut, and each ministry must use its professional judgement, based on its priorities. The base amount for higher education is 9 billion shekels. Since 2011 this has grown by 2 billion shekels, a significant growth that ensures the economic strength of the system. In fact, there is no cut but rather a reduction in planned supplements. In light of recent growth in these budgets, no serious damage to higher education is expected.”