A 25-day strike over pay by Israel's senior university lecturers could be over within days as academics weigh an offer from the finance ministry of a 4 per cent wage increase and compensation for salary erosion over the past two years.
Lecturers are demanding the same 16.8 per cent pay rise that senior government and municipal officials and judges have received over the past two years, according to Assa Lifschitz, chairman of the coordinating council of the faculty association at the Universities in Israel.
"The last wage agreement expired in October 1999. We asked for an increase to prevent erosion of our salaries. During the two years of negotiations, we came to the conclusion that you cannot negotiate without a strike. We are deadlocked, said Professor Lifschitz, professor of physical chemistry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
After more than two weeks of the strike, students blocked campus entrances in protest at the lack of progress in the talks between university and ministry representatives. Tel Aviv University's gates were locked; concrete blocks and stones were piled at the entrance to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. At the Hebrew University, students blocked the main gate with burning tyres. But the impact on classes was patchy, with just a few already in progress being halted.
Ministry officials claim lecturers have already received a 40 per cent rise in salaries, but Professor Lifschitz said that this amount was received in 1994.
Israel's four academic university ranks are lecturer, senior lecturer, assistant professor and full professor. Professor Lifschitz said that the monthly salary for a lecturer (usually aged 36 or 37) was 10,000 shekels (£1,612), while that of a full professor (with 25 years' tenure) was 20,000 shekels. About 50 per cent of this is taken back in tax.
The strike is affecting 120,000 students, not including students from the country's regional and other colleges.