Street Smarts / Sour Apple for Teach

In a recent interview with TheMarker, Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer commented that the state spends too little on higher education.

In a recent interview with TheMarker, Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer commented that the state spends too little on higher education. So talent that studies abroad tends to stay there. "Without higher education, without technological abilities, our nation is nothing," the governor declared.

True. Outstanding Israeli scientists receive attractive offers from American universities, and stay there. But when the Shochat Committee wanted to amend the situation and give university presidents a bit of flexibility to offer "personal grants" to "leaders in their field," the union of university teachers blew the suggestion out of the water. So when lecturers today demand a raise on the grounds that Israel must plug the brain drain, remember that they themselves torpedoed the last good idea on that topic.

Lecturers protest that they don't get their pay just for a few teaching hours each week. True. Their main occupation is research, and they don't clock the hours they spend on that. But it is also true that some work like dogs studying phenomena new to mankind and publishing, and some do not. Should they receive the same?

A few years back, the rule was set that a senior faculty member who devoted all his time to academic pursuits would receive a bonus. It was also decided that no more than 70 percent of the faculty would be entitled to this perk. In practice, somewhere between 85 and 90 percent of academics currently receive it, which is not right. Also, the wages unit of the Planning and Budgets Committee (part of the Council for Higher Education) found that many faculty members teach only three hours a week or less, which is also all wrong.

The unit's figures show that over the years, the universities overpaid, which is part of the reason for the universities' budget deficits and for the mean sums allocated to laboratory work and libraries.

What sort of irregularities are taking place? For instance, university staffers receive 40 percent more "convalescence" pay than do civil servants. The Council for Higher Education says that in 2006, wage irregularities at the universities cost an aggregate of half a billion shekels, roughly speaking.

Lecturers say that the pay of a tenured professor is NIS 17,000 a month, but the Council for Higher Education's wages unit says a professor grosses NIS 27,000 a month. Whence this discrepancy? The lecturers are presenting base pay without all the extras. They are not factoring in extras for research, grants that can come to 27 percent of their gross pay, or extra pay for specific positions. And lecturers are entitled to a year's sabbatical after six years' work, and to get their travel to foreign conferences covered.

Even if a tenured professor grosses NIS 27,000 a month, do not forget that a senior lecturer averages just NIS 16,000 gross. It is true that university lecturers should earn more, but at the same time, the Shochat Committee recommendations regarding employment terms for new faculty should be accepted. Unfit teachers should be encouraged to retire, and quality teaching should be encouraged. Also, university heads should be allowed to lure back Israeli scientists who become big in their field. At the end of the day, Fischer is right. Without quality higher education, our nation is nothing.