A bill proposing that Israeli universities accept any undergraduate candidate who has passed the high-school matriculation exam has raised fears of longer degree courses.
The parliamentary education committee ended a debate on access to higher education by agreeing to table a private members' bill. Proposed by Silvan Shalom of the right-of-centre Likud party, it would effectively force universities to offer a place in a faculty of the candidate's choice to holders of the matriculation certificate, irrespective of their average mark.
Mr Shalom argued that this would redress differences in the quality of secondary-level teaching across the country by giving students who did not perform well at high school a second chance.
The bill brought swift criticism from senior academics who labelled it "popularist".
Hanoch Gottfriend, chairman of the Committee of University Heads, warned that universities would be forced to append an extra year's study to first degree programmes if it were to become law.
Amnon Rubinstein, minister of education, also voiced opposition, saying that the planned changes would mean a large increase in the education budget. Academic standards could suffer, he said.
The bill has its roots in a wider debate concerning access to higher education.
Many universities are operating at full capacity and there is consensus across the political spectrum that changes in both the structure and format of the higher education system are needed.
One suggestion calls for the provision of special courses for university or college candidates who need to improve their matriculation mark.
Previous moves to improve access included the expansion and improvement of the regional college programme, providing increases in both the range of courses offered and the number of student places available.
Several leading regional colleges, such as Tel Hai college in the Upper Galilee, now offer first-degree courses, either under the auspices of one of the universities or, increasingly, on a self-approved basis.