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Hebrew University on the Road to Recovery, Says School’s Head

After a long struggle to overcome a deep financial crises, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem is on the path to recovery.

“We are now in the midst of a process taking us out of the crisis,” said Professor Amnon Pazy, the president of the university, in an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “We are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and at the same time we are also growing and developing new faculties and new fields of research.”

The financial crisis at Israel’s oldest and most prestigious university is a symptom of the general financial crises at all of Israel’s higher education institutions, a fiscal problem that mirrors the volatile Israeli economy.

The 52-year-old Pazy, a professor of mathematics who was elected president of the university last year, explained that all of Israel’s universities are having difficulties balancing their budgets.

According to Pazy, Hebrew University has accumulated deficits of tens of millions of dollars in recent years. “The worse crisis was in 1985, with a $30 million deficit,” Pazy disclosed.

Last year, he said, the university managed to finish the year with only a $17 million deficit, and the same deficit is projected for this year.

The 63-year-old university has a yearly budget of $150 million, 50 percent of which is provided by the government. Only 10 percent of the budget, or $15 million, comes from tuition. There are approximately 18,000 students who attend the university.

The rest of the budget is derived from money raised by friends of the university around the world, and from investments and other sources.

According to Pazy, the university’s economic woes have multiple sources. To begin with, the Israeli government has drastically reduced its financial support of all universities, from paying 80 percent of its budget to only 50 percent.

GOVERNMENT REGULATIONS

At the same time, Pazy pointed out, the universities were not allowed to raise tuition, which is also regulated by the government.

A student’s yearly tuition in an Israeli university is a mere $1,400, which hardly covers the real cost, especially in the science and medicine faculties where laboratories and state-of-the-art equipment are a must.

“In order to balance our budget, we were forced to borrow money from the banks. And in Israel, as you probably know, the interest rate is very high, about 15 percent per year,” Pazy said, noting that last year alone, Hebrew University paid about $10 million in interest on its debts.

In February, the university embarked on a five-year “recovery plan,” which calls for reducing the academic staff by 15 percent and the administrative staff by 20 percent.

The plan also calls for raising about $100 million in the next five years from friends of the university in the United States and elsewhere.

“This plan,” Pazy said, “provides only the minimal means for the operation of the university. The preservation of our high standards and excellence under these less than optimal conditions is a most delicate and difficult task which will have to be carried out in the coming years.”

Pazy said that while the university’s academic standing in the world is still high, its financial difficulties, if not successfully resolved, can cause a great deal of damage in the long run.

He warned that if a university cannot absorb a new generation of scientists and researchers in all fields; if it cannot afford the best in equipment; and if its libraries’ shelves avoid the latest books and publication because of lack of funds, then the damage “may be for generations to come.”

At present, however, Hebrew University can be ranked with the best universities in the world. In the fields of mathematics, Jewish studies, Islamic studies, economics and medicine, Pazy said, “Hebrew U. is at the top.”

Pazy said the university considers itself a “university for the Jewish people,” including students from overseas. As such, the university has been developing its Rothberg School for Overseas Students, which was founded 18 years ago.

The overseas students come from over 50 different countries, Pazy said, including Japan, Korea, Hungary, Poland and China. Most, but not all, of the students are Jewish.

The school’s Hebrew ulpan, offered twice yearly, is the largest ulpan of its type in the world. “It attracts students from literally all four corners of the globe, and from all of the world’s great religions,” the president of Hebrew University said proudly.

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