Israeli University Tuition Fees Must Rise, Top Economist Trajtenberg Says

Student union chief disagrees, saying that if the new government really wants to help working people, it should fund education.

Both tuition fees and faculty numbers need to rise if Israeli universities want to maintain their standards, says Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, head of the Planning and Budgeting Committee at the Council for Higher Education.

"There's a billion-shekel deficit for the multiyear [higher-education] plan, as tuition fees have not increased. In October the student agreement expires and we need to discuss the matter," Trajtenberg said Thursday, referring to a 2010 agreement under which fees would not be raised without the students’ consent.

"If tuition fees do not rise, higher education in Israel will not have a solid funding base for a while," said Trajtenberg, who headed the committee on socioeconomic change set up after the 2011 social protests. "If we do not increase the rate of taking in academic staff, we will fail to reach the targets we set for the end of the multiyear plan," he said, speaking at a conference on higher education.

Student union chief Uri Reshtik disagreed. "We do not accept Prof. Trajtenberg's idea that students are the ones who should bear the brunt of the additional costs," Reshtik said. "If according to the finance minister's philosophy the country really wants to focus on the working man, it should first and foremost invest in education and higher education."

According to Reshtik, "the National Union of Israeli Students is prepared for any scenario and isn't afraid to fight [a decision] that would harm the lifestyles of some 300,000 young people in Israel."

Trajtenberg also mentioned the humanities, which have lost some of their luster at Israeli universities. "It is inconceivable that Israel will be inferior in the humanities," he said. "It is inconceivable that fields related to Israel such as Jewish studies and Jewish history shouldn't be the best in the world."

Education Minister Shay Piron noted that integrating the ultra-Orthodox community was important, but that "no one should think that our aim is to change a way of life. Still, we must not give up on the idea that things cannot remain the same."

The Israeli government is taking steps to get more ultra-Orthodox men into the workforce and more ultra-Orthodox children to study core-curriculum subjects. Piron also admitted that the Israeli Arab education system "has not always received the proper resources in order to develop."

Piron added that he would strive for students to take Israel's equivalent of the SAT exam before military service instead of after. He said a way should be found to integrate the exam into the 12 years of study before university.

Emil Salman