Ariel University Center was granted university status Tuesday, ending months of battling over the fate of the West Bank academic institution.
The school, located in the settlement of the same name, has operated under the neither-here-nor-there status of “university center” since 2007, but has lobbied for an upgrade to university, which would give it a share of the state’s budget.
“This is a big day for Israeli academia,” the school’s head, Dan Marstein said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Ariel Mayor Ron Nachman to congratulate him on the decision.
“This is a day of celebration for Ariel, a day of celebration for higher learning in Israel,” he said.
The move is supported by right-wing groups, which see it as a way for Israel to strengthen its foothold on the territory. Much of the Israeli left opposes the upgrade, saying granting Ariel university status will deepen Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and damage Israel’s standing internationally.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman welcomed the decision to make Ariel University officially Israel’s eighth university.
“This is an important decision that will both strengthen academia in Israel and settlement in Judea and Samaria and make a major contribution to the students and their research at such a worthy institution,” he said. “This recognition is another achievement of Yisrael Beytenu who made the recognition of Ariel as a university one of its conditions of entry to the government and a central part of the coalition agreement. Today we proved that our word is our word.”
The Council for Higher Education came under intense political pressure in the weeks leading up to the vote, with Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar being among the most vocal supporters of the upgrade.
Among university heads there was strong opposition to establishing another university in Israel. Those against the idea said it would influence academic budgeting, adding that the physical location of the campus makes it a potential troublemaker in international opinion.
The move would be “a fatal blow to the higher education system,” said a letter sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed by the presidents of Israel’s major universities. The letter claimed that the higher education system was already suffering from underfunding and that there was “no real need for a new university in Israel.”
On Tuesday, dozens on the right and left rallied for and against the designation at the school.