Ariel University Center took two more steps toward the coveted status of a fully fledged university Sunday, as two ministers placed their weight behind the institution's academic quest.
Minister of Finance Yuval Steinitz sent a letter Sunday to Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar in which he said that if Ariel University Center is recognized as a university, he will transfer a grant of NIS 50M to the institution over a two year period.
The university in Samaria (Shomron) will receive a special NIS 20M budget in 2013 and 30M in 2014, Steinitz pledged, and will continue to receive a special annual budget for several years. The budget will grow gradually from year to year, he added.
Steinitz expressed hope that the letter "will make it easier" for the authorized bodies to approve the establishment of Israel's eighth university in Ariel.
MKs Alex Miller (Yisrael Beytenu) and Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), co-chairs of the Knesset lobby for granting Ariel university status, hailed the letter as "historic" and "very important."
MK Zehava Galon of Meretz called it "a crass act of political intervention in academic freedom, which is intended to continue to stuff the bellies of the settlers in the university that is located on territory whose sovereign future is a matter of controversy."
Minister Sa'ar expressed his support Sunday for granting Ariel full university status. Sa'ar heads the Committee for Higher Education (CHE). However, CHE's Committee for Planning and Budgeting decided earlier in the month not to approve an upgrade in the institution's academic status, and the presidents of Israel's seven existing research universities signed a letter demanding that the approval be withheld.
Steinitz's announcement makes it more difficult for the other universities to oppose the addition of Ariel to their ranks, because it means that most of its budget will not come at their expense.