Students Block Traffic in Protest Against Expected Tuition Hike

Students strike in anticipation of Shochet Committee decisions while teachers are striking over their new pay package.

Dozens of students blocked traffic at the Glilot junction and at the entrance to Jerusalem on Wednesday as colleges across the country went on strike to protest expected increases to tuition.

Students asked passing motorists to contribute a shekel each to the higher education budget, in an effort to emphasize the budget deficit. Students' Union Secretary General Salam Sharkiya said hundreds of drivers contributed to the cause.

From 8 A.M. until 11 A.M. dozens of students blocked traffic at the Glilot junction causing extensive traffic jams, as dozens more students gathered at a number of junctions at the entrance to Jerusalem.

The protesters were students from a number of institutions, including the David Yellin College for Education, the Music Academy, Emunah College and Efrata College. The strikes are a part of a series of protest actions organized by students seeking an increase to the higher education budget.

Student unions from 27 colleges across Israel went on strike Wednesday to protest the Shochet Committee's proposals for reforms to higher education.

The Winograd Committee had recommended reducing tuition and creating the independent Shochat Committee to decide on any future increases.

The head of the student movement, Itai Barda, said that the strike was to protest the Shochet Committee's expected proposals to raise tuition fees. Barda pointed out that even Education Minister Yuli Tamir has argued that tuition fees are too low and need to be raised before further treasury funds can be released to the higher education system.

"The local colleges are mostly from Israel's peripheral regions and serve populations with low socioeconomic status, so reducing their budgets while simultaneously raising tuition fees would represent a coup de grace, which would in turn increase social inequality," said Barda.

Wednesday's strike was organized in conjunction with the protests, which the students have been organizing since the establishment of the Shochet Committee in November.

The national student movement expressed its support for the teachers' unions' protests. Teachers across the country on Wednesday canceled classes for grades 1 and 2, and 11 and 12. The strike is part of the teachers' unions' battle with the treasury for a new collective wage deal.

The teachers blame the treasury for dragging their feet over the negotiations. A teachers' strike last week halted classes for two hours.

Teachers' Union head Yossi Wasserman said, "the treasury has refused to pursue relevant or serious negotiations with the teachers unions for a long time now. The meetings are arranged solely for the sake of appearances - they lack any substance and are not intended to find any solutions to the problems with the education system."

High school teachers' union chair Ran Erez said, "Apparently, the Israeli government deals with the education system with equanimity - as though it had all the time in the world. They have no practical proposals to solve the problems. Education Minister Yuli Tamir supports our struggle but her hands are tied due to budgetary constraints."

The treasury responded by describing the strike as "unsurprising, and done for reasons only known to the teachers themselves."