Samaria will have its first full university, pending the go-ahead of the Israeli military.
The Ariel University Center on Tuesday was recognized as a full university by the Judea and Samaria Council for Higher Education, which handles educational concerns in the “disputed territories.” The center, which has more than 10,000 students, Jewish and Arab, would be called Ariel University.
The 11-2 vote came despite a vehement recommendation against approval by the planning and budget committee of Israel’s Council for Higher Education, as well as opposition from the country’s other seven universities, and from public figures, all of whom objected to upgrading a college which had passed all the prerequisites for the boost, but was still unable to conceal the damning fact that it was located in the “West Bank.”
Last month, in a letter to Netanyahu, the presidents of Israel’s seven universities said that an eighth university would deal a “fatal blow to the higher education system in general, and the universities in particular.”
On Sunday, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz announced that his ministry would earmark extra funds for the Ariel University Center, so that it would not cut into the funding of Israel’s other universities. Steinitz said he will ask the government to grant an allocation of some $5 million to $7.5 million for the next two fiscal years, with plans to increase the sum in future years.
That’s an approximately $4 million a year fatal blow.
Professor Daniel Zajfman, head of the Weizmann Institute of Science, said he would cancel all academic and professional cooperation with Ariel U.
Hebrew University President Menahem Ben-Sasson was concerned about gentile reaction to the move, specifically Norwegians and Swedes, warning: “We are putting the next Nobel Prize in danger.”
MK Einat Wilf, head of the Knesset Education Committee, said it was still all about the money: “If the Finance Minister and the Education Ministry have tens of millions of extra shekels for higher education, they should have been used to assist the existing universities, which are recovering from a decade of tough budget cuts.”
Again, that’s approximately $4 million a year.
For comparison, as of 2010, the Hebrew University deficit was estimated at $2.5 billion.
And the Tel Aviv University salaries and pensions alone have reached $165 million a year.
No doubt, depriving the fledgling Ariel of $4 million a year would go a long way to balance those hemorrhaging deficits.
Of course, the report on the center’s progress that was submitted to the committee of Israel’s academic establishment praises Ariel’s accomplishments and left no doubt as to its ability to take its rightful place as a major academic institution.
The final authorization for making the Ariel center a university will be made by the IDF central commander in the West Bank, Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon. At this point, Alon is expected to back up the Judea and Samaria council’s decision.
The Judea and Samaria council was established in 1997 after the Council for Higher Education refused to discuss academic issues concerning the “West Bank.”
In 2007, the Ariel academic center was granted temporary recognition as a so-called university center, and its status was to be reexamined within five years. The city of Ariel, with a population of about 20,000, is located southwest of the biblical city of Shchem, where the patriarch Jacob was hoping to settle down and study some Torah, when unexpected thing started to happen.
Like it or not, Jacob’s dream is becoming a reality now.
JTA content was used in this report.