Monday, 15 September 2008

Strikes by Professors and Students Paralyze Palestinian Universities

NEWS BLOG : September 15, 2008

Jerusalem — Dual strikes by Palestinian faculty members and students have effectively paralyzed the Palestinian higher-education system in the West Bank and Gaza.

Faculty members at the nine Palestinian universities walked out two weeks ago, demanding a pay raise of 80 percent. The dispute has brought together often-warring factions in the rival Fatah and Hamas camps in a united front.

“The strike is a legal procedure, and it has nothing to do with political rivalries,” Mousa Ajwah, a spokesman for the General Union of University Workers, told the Ma’an News Agency. He appealed to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to intervene immediately and end the crisis.

The professors’ union rejected an offer of a 50-percent rise in pay.

Students, meanwhile, have been on strike to protest tuition increases, which vary from campus to campus. Students at Birzeit University, near Ramallah, walked out after the administration raised tuition for new students by 25 percent without advance warning. The students also protested the administration’s refusal to register returning students who could not afford to pay the full fee of 500 Jordanian dinars, or about $700.

Things turned ugly on the campuses this week as students started burning tires as part of protests against the university administration.

Rami Khalaf, a spokesman for the Birzeit Student Council, said the students would suspend the strike on Tuesday after Nabil Qassis, the university’s president, agreed to negotiations and to extend the deadline for registering cash-strapped students.

“We are pleased that the university has agreed to talks, and we have stopped our action for now, but we will not accept the increase in fees, and we will go on strike again if the university management do not change their minds on this issue,” Mr. Khalaf told The Chronicle.

He said the students supported the professors’ demand for higher salaries but called on the Palestinian government to provide the money. —Matthew Kalman

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