Students Splintered as Higher-education Strike Enters Fourth Day on Campuses

A visit to a number of striking campuses yesterday revealed a complex picture. Support was strong for the higher-education strike, entering its fourth day tomorrow, at the colleges, where students are less well-off. However, students at some of the universities demonstrated indifference.

The rule, the student unions said, was that students could go to the library, take tests and carry out lab experiments, but they could not go to lectures.

The lecture halls at Tel Aviv University were empty, with support for the strike coming also from lecturers and other university personnel. However, students from prestigious extra-budgetary programs, whose tuition runs between NIS 35,000 and NIS 200,000 a year, were not on strike.

But groups of "regular" students went about disrupting their lectures. Two classes of senior army officers dispersed quickly "without resorting to tear gas and rubber bullets," one officer in the program said.

Gil Goldenberg, of the Student Union, said that in the Executive MBA program, the dean of the faculty came and university security was called in to prevent the lecture from being disrupted. It was finally moved to a hotel. "Because students pay $40,000 for this program, everybody goes out for them. It's very symbolic. Now, while privatization is only in its budding stages we see the amazingly different attitudes toward students of higher status."

The head of the program also showed up quickly when students came to disrupt a class in business administration and finance.

He tried to explain that the extra-budgetary students "do not enjoy tuition discounts," and are mainly not subsidized by the state.

In Haifa, about 150 students from the University of Haifa and the Technion demonstrated, calling on Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Education Minister Yuli Tamir to resign because of their neglect of the students, and the part protesters say they are playing in raising tuition fees.

"I think the strike is justified," Hassan Abu-Leil, a student at the Western Galilee College in Acre, said. "But the big question is whether it will attain its goal." Tuition these days, Abu-Leil says, is "astronomical."

Elinor Eliasapov, who is studying at the Shamoon College of Engineering in Be'er Sheva also supports the strike. "I work and do Perach [a program in which students are paid for tutoring underprivileged children] to pay my tuition. Every NIS 100 is very important. They know we want to study, so why make things hard on us?"

At the Technion and Ben-Gurion University there were also students who were indifferent to the strike.

"I don't know much about the strike but it's true they shouldn't raise tuition. On the other hand I think tuition in Israel is relatively low," Elad, a second-year computer student at the Technion said.

"Besides, there are special grants and you can manage," he added.

Many students wrote on the Ben-Gurion Internet forum that they were worried about losing study time to the strike. Some even opposed the whole struggle and said they had "no faith in the student leaders."