Israel acts after officials found with false degrees

December 21, 2001

Israel's ministry of justice has been charged with enforcing the law on universities and other degree-awarding institutions after public officials were accused of buying degrees from at least two foreign university extensions.

Avraham Ben-Shabbat, head of the Histadrut Teachers' Union, is under house arrest after an investigation that false degrees had been bought by more than 100 people, including police and other civil servants.

He is accused of acquiring his degree fraudulently and of allowing his name to be used in marketing campaigns for a company that held the franchises for Burlington College, Vermont, and for the University of Latvia, Riga.

Mr Ben-Shabbat, who has represented the teachers' unions in pay talks with treasury representatives, is not likely to remain in his position.

University extensions mushroomed in Israel in the past decade. In 1998, the Knesset amended the law to require institutions wishing to have their degrees recognised in Israel to obtain a licence from the Council for Higher Education. Although the licences were often temporary, the council could not "infringe upon the rights of the extensions as representatives of the home university", said Nehemia Levtzion, chair of the council's planning and budgeting committee.

"We are willing to give institutions accreditation as Israeli institutions (if they meet the criteria)," Professor Levtzion said. "But then they can't be considered extensions of foreign universities."

As all universities operating in Israel in 1998 were offered two years' grace, those that had never received a permit were allowed to continue to function until 2000.

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