Community Service May Become Condition for University Stipend

A new bill granting income tax exemptions for stipends given by universities is drawing fire from an unlikely source.

Representatives of the junior faculties - who benefit most from such stipends - say the proposal by MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beiteinu) would actually "enshrine in law discriminatory regulations that regard recipients of stipends as vassals," said Danny Shafruch, the chairman of the coordinating forum of the junior faculty organizations.

The Knesset Finance Committee is to discuss the bill tomorrow ahead of its second and third readings.

According to data provided by the forum, the annual budget for stipends of the various universities is approximately NIS 420 million, distributed to approximately 10,000 recipients - mainly young scholars who have studying for a master's degree or their Ph.D. Most of the stipends amount to between NIS 2,000 to NIS 3,000 a month.

At present, each university manages its stipends independently. Some of the regulations governing this funding are "draconian," Shafruch says, allowing the institution "to stop the stipend when it wants, or demand that students return money they have received, even going back three years."

The forum's main criticism of the bill is a clause stating that the recipient of a stipend pledge is not to work outside the university during the period he or she is studying. "It's a joke to place such a limitation on a Ph.D. student, who usually needs to support a family," Shafruch said.

The junior faculty are worried about another clause in the bill, which they say will require stipend recipients to work in "social or community work" sponsored by the university as a condition for receiving the stipend.

According to the chairman of the junior faculty at Tel Aviv University, Eran Hakim, "Stipend recipients are students, not apprentices. This legislation sets up medieval labor conditions. It is an anti-social move that will mean that only the rich will be able to study for advanced degrees."

Miller, who is also the chairman of the group of Knesset members supporting students, says: "I met a number of times with representatives of the junior faculty and they presented what they consider the problematic points. The issues will be raised tomorrow in discussion of the bill in committee, taking into consideration the opinion of the Tax Authority and the Council for Higher Education, leaving the discretion up to the Knesset members."