Emigre tuition grants threatened in Israel

JERUSALEM — More than 10,000 immigrant students could find themselves without a tuition grant if the Jewish Agency follows through on its plan to halt support of the Students Authority.

The Immigration and Absorption Ministry and the Jewish Agency had each been supplying half the authority's $36 million budget. This year, the Jewish Agency unexpectedly cut its funding by $3.5 million and now is expected to end its support altogether.

At an emergency meeting of the Ministerial Committee on Diaspora, Immigration and Absorption Affairs last week, Immigration and Absorption Minister Yuli Edelstein and Industry and Trade Minister Natan Sharansky used the word "painful" to describe the decision.

The committee presented a resolution under which the Immigration and Absorption Ministry would take over running the Students Authority and receive state funds to cover the costs. However, a representative of the Finance Ministry, Natasha Michaelov, said such a change would not be possible at this stage of the 1999 budget discussions.

Edelstein said the effects of the decision already are being felt: Universities have announced they will not allow the immigrant students to register for preparatory courses in August because they cannot be sure they will receive payment.

Michael Rosenberg, head of the Jewish Agency's Immigration and Absorption Department, said at the moment "the trend is to drastically reduce" the funds, although he could not state whether this means cutting them altogether or paying just a symbolic amount.

The Jewish Agency's plan to withdraw support of the Students Authority apparently follows a decision by its board of directors to cuts funds in Israel in several areas.

According to Hanoch Zamir, Immigration and Absorption Ministry deputy director-general, the decision would mainly affect immigrant students, who would not be able to complete their studies and graduate.

Many young immigrants from the former Soviet Union postponed their academic studies to do military service with the understanding their tuition fees would be covered later by the Students Authority.

"Now they stand to lose this aid," said Ze'ev Gaizel, an adviser to the prime minister on immigration.

Totaling 7,165, the largest number of students affected comes from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. More than 1,000 students come from Ethiopia; 830 come from Western Europe; 590 come from Latin America and 464 come from North America.

Nearly 60 percent of the immigrant students are pursuing degrees in the fields of science and technology.

"I don't need to tell you what this means in terms of future development," Zamir said.

Eighty percent of the authority's budget goes to tuition fees and the rest is spent on extra academic help, information and counseling, social and cultural activities, maintenance of dormitories and stipends.