University students are the latest group to take the streets in Israel, protesting what they have called 'government indifference' towards the effects of the COVID-19 crisis on students. They have demanded financial assistance for students warning against a wave of low income students dropping out from universities, which would increase existing inequalities in access to higher education.
Shlomi Yahyab, the chair of the National Student Union, told Davar News: "We’re speaking on behalf of the 350,000 students who are the future of this country. When the crisis hit, we didn't think twice about volunteering in masse to help the elderly and the underprivileged. But these days, as the economy begins to re-open and the new normal is around the corner, students are finding that we’ve been left behind.”
Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, many of the university students in Israel who work in addition to completing their degrees have been fired or furloughed. Many are under the age of twenty-eight, meaning that they are only entitled to receive partial unemployment benefits. According to the Students' Union, the government’s inaction could force students from disadvantaged economic backgrounds to drop out, intensifying inequalities in access to higher education.
As Yehyab told Davar, "We’re talking about a lost generation who will have to give up their studies to pay off their debts, mortgage their future, and reset their dreams. It doesn’t have to be this way. Decision makers in the Treasury and the Council for Higher Education need to wake up. The comprehensive solutions we’re fighting for have been ruled out and replaced with band-aid solutions, and inequality in academia is growing. "
Among their list of demands, the Student Union urges the government to set up a special fund to help students who are in financial distress and provide a safety net to fill in the gaps of unemployment benefits. They’re also demanding a refund of rent paid during the crisis, noting that many of their homes remained vacant during the lockdown as they sheltered-in-place with family.