Educators: Treasury Plan Will Damage Academe's Autonomy

The Ministry of Finance has recently announced that it intends to appoint an accountant to the Planning and Budgeting Committee (PBC) of the Council for Higher Education (CHE). Both Minister of Education Yuli Tamir, who is chairman of the CHE, and the heads of the institutes of higher education themselves object to the step, saying that it jeopardizes the academic autonomy of local universities and colleges.

The treasury claims that the accountant general's auditing report found irregularities in the CHE budget, which totals about NIS 6 billion annually. The Ministry of Finance said that, "in light of this issue, the accountant general has asked the minister of education to appoint an accountant from the office of the accountant general to supervise transfer of state budgets to the PBC and ensure that the budget is carried out according to the law and the proper administrative procedures. At the request of the accountant general, a meeting has been scheduled to discuss the matter with the minister of education."

But, according to Tamir, the decision is "irresponsible and was made in an irresponsible manner. I have suggested to the accountant general that we sit down with representatives from the PBC and review the claims, but he chose not to wait and unilaterally announced that a supervising accountant would be appointed. I have no intention of approving this." She added that "the significance of academic autonomy is that the PBC may set its own budgetary priorities. An external accountant may attempt to interfere with the committee's work and jeopardize this autonomy."

The CHE met last week to discuss the issue, and decided to oppose the initiative. Prof. Moshe Kaveh, president of Bar-Ilan University and chairman of the committee of heads of universities, also objects to the move.

"Politicians and government officials have tried to compromise the status of the PBC in recent years," said Kaveh. "The decision to appoint a supervising accountant will be a mortal blow to the PBC and to the goals of the CHE."

Prof. Danny Gutwein of the University of Haifa commented that "the common denominator of all of the treasury's proposals in the field of education is an attempt to transform education to a business organization." He added: "There is a fundamental difference between business thinking and the management of science. Unwillingness to accept this, willingness to 'bend' science to business considerations, destroys the system of higher education."