Ariel – Israel's 8th University? Decision Today

The Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria decides on the highly charged issue Tuesday.

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Gil Ronen,

Ariel University Center
Ariel University Center
Ariel University Center

The Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria will decide Tuesday whether to grant full university status to Ariel University Center. The matter has become a highly politicized debate, due to the fact that Ariel is located "beyond the Green Line" – that is, on territory liberated in 1967.

The Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria (CHE-JS) was created in the early 90s after the Judea and Samaria College in Ariel, as it was then known, filed a request for academic recognition of two of its programs for Bachelor's Degree studies. The Council for Higher Education (CHE) that regulates universities in "pre-1967" Israel could not, legally, deal with the matter, and CHE-JS was formed. Initially, CHE-JS was made up of the same people who staffed CHE, but some of these refused to serve on it because of their political views, and they were replaced by others.

In 2005, CHE-JS decided it was too early to grant the Judea and Samaria College university status, but instead gave it interim status as a "university center." The decision was that Ariel University Center would be "on probation" for five years, during which a committee of esteemed professors from six universities, head by Prof. Amos Altshuler of Ben Gurion University, would evaluate its academic level.

Ariel University Center sailed through the evaluation period with flying colors and received high praise from the professors' committee. The professors noted that the institution has a high output of research and professional publications, a growing number of patents, and numerous international conventions. This last fact also weakens the leftist argument that Ariel would be boycotted by universities elsewhere in the world.   

The committee also noted that 85% of the students at Ariel live "within the Green Line," 5% are Arabs, and that the institution has a relatively large percentage of students from the lower middle class, including a larger percentage of Ethiopian Jews than any other academic institution in Israel.

The Minister of Education, who is also chairman of the CHE and CHE-JS,  has announced his support for granting Ariel university status, and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz has pledged to fund the institution with a special budget so as to minimize damage to other universities.

However, the powerful Committee for Planning and Budgeting (CPB) of the Council for Higher Education recommended recently not to give Ariel university status, and to continue "evaluating" the idea for another year. CPB chairman Prof. Manual Trajtenberg criticized the professors' committee headed by Altshuler as unqualified for the job it was given. The presidents of the existing universities are also fighting the decision tooth and nail, and it is not clear how the members of the CHE-JS will vote, although most analysts predict the vote will be in favor of recognition.