New Immigrants Mulling Lawsuit Against Student Authority Over Withheld Tuition

Students blame the Jewish Agency, one of the parties responsible for funding their scholarships.

New immigrant students who were denied their tuition assistance last month have taken proactive steps to recoup the money, including meeting with student union lawyers and forming a Facebook group that has drawn the attention of the Jewish Agency.

The Facebook group, called "Protest Olim Tuition Assistance Cut," was created by Tel Aviv University master's students earlier this week and quickly gained nearly 100 "likes." A few students posted comments on the page's wall blaming the recent tuition debacle on the Jewish Agency, one of the parties responsible for funding their scholarships.

The agency deflected blame in a response it posted Tuesday on its official Facebook page, stating: "The Jewish Agency for Israel has long since fulfilled its financial commitment to the [Student] Authority, which is primarily funded by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. The current difficulties are the result of a technicality, which is presently in the process of being resolved by the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and the Ministry of Finance."

The spokespeople for the Immigrant Absorption Ministry were at an educational retreat this week and could not be reached for comment.

The students quickly replied that they are "optimistic that this matter can be settled expeditiously and out of court" but that they will not rule out legal action against the Student Authority should the funds be withheld much longer.

Haaretz reported last week that dozens of students enrolled in three-semester international masters programs were still waiting for the second half of their tuition assistance from the Student Authority - upwards of NIS 13,000 in most cases - and that some had been explicitly told by the Student Authority that they would not receive the money due to budget difficulties.

Haaretz has since learned that new immigrants enrolled in undergraduate programs and who studied during the summer semester have been affected as well, including students at the Technion in Haifa.

On Monday, in response to what he called "multiple complaints, those made privately as well as through various media," Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Jewish Agency, made a personal appeal to the minister of immigrant absorption to resolve the matter quickly.

In a letter to Minister Sofa Landver, a copy of which was obtained by Haaretz, Sharansky wrote: "Much to my amazement, I've heard many complaints by students who claim that the existing scholarships and other grants that were promised to them by the Student Authority haven't reached their destination."

He added: "I ask for your personal intervention in allocating funds to these students immediately."

According to a government decision reached in July, the Jewish Agency stood by its commitment to provide funding for immigrant students during the 2012-2013 academic year but resolved to cease funding scholarships for immigrant students in following years. A spokesman noted that "the agency is committed to making sure that no students are harmed."

Students reacted to the Jewish Agency's statements with guarded optimism. "The thought is nice but unless there's something on paper I don't really believe it," said Shira Urim, an undergraduate at the Technion who moved to Israel from Florida in 2010 and who is waiting for NIS 4,000 in aid.

Rachel Wolfson, a recent graduate of Tel Aviv University's master's program in security and diplomacy, said she feels "taken advantage of" by the Israeli government. "I hope that the Jewish Agency's statement is sincere and that action is really being taken to refund us the full remainder of our scholarship," she said. "This issue has caused financial despair for many of the students involved."