Access decision divides Israelis

September 20, 2002

Israel's council for higher education intends to block an "open access" plan by the Hebrew University to admit up to 400 students from low-income neighbourhoods to its humanities and social sciences faculties.

The plan, under which the students would be admitted without psychometric testing, has the support of the finance ministry, but has bypassed the council's planning and budgeting committee.

The committee sought to assert its "sole power" to distribute funds from the state higher education budget. "The university has exceeded and violated proper administrative procedures that are well-known to its leaders," it said in a statement.

Although the role of the committee was defined in a government decision of 1977, Menachem Magidor, president of the Hebrew University, said:

"Sometimes, if you want to achieve something, you have to bypass (traditional routes). While I believe the money should be channelled by the committee, I knew that if I had taken the plan directly to them it would have been buried."

The plan, which would require students to present a high-school diploma (the Bagrut), but not to take the psychometric test required of other students, runs contrary to the idea promoted by policy-makers that accessibility to higher education should be handled by regional colleges.

Professor Magidor said: "There should be a channel for students from underprivileged backgrounds to join universities."

According to the plan, students would receive special instruction in small classes with specially prepared study materials and additional tutoring.

Students who earn an average grade in their tests would be eligible to complete a three or four-year degree.

Israeli higher education leaders oppose open admissions on the grounds that the burden of absorbing thousands of unprepared first-year students would divert resources from research.

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