The Ariel University Center of Samaria will not be upgraded to full university status this year, the Council for Higher Education announced on Wednesday in a closely watched decision. Instead, the final status of the controversial institution will be determined in May 2013, after a review of “all relevant aspects of the issue.”
The Ariel University Center of Samaria is located in Ariel, one of the largest of the West Bank settlements at 19,000 residents. The school, which opened thirty years ago, has some 12,000 students and was granted a temporary upgrade in status (to “university center”) in 2007, with a 2012 deadline to determine if the school qualified for permanent recognition.
The council came under intense political pressure in the weeks leading up to its announcement, with right-wing elements calling for upgrading the school. The Israeli academic community opposed the proposed upgrade, which would have granted the school full status and funding as a government-backed research institution.
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 under-funding and that there was “no real need for a new university in Israel.”
Last month, the head of the Weizmann Institute of Science, Daniel Zajfman, said that the institution would “cut all ties” with the Ariel University Center if its status was upgraded.
MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), herself on the faculty of law at Tel Aviv University and head of the lobby supporting recognition of the Ariel University Center as a state-funded university, said that “the decision is an ugly politicization of Israeli academia. In this situation, there is no escape and the political system will have to take an interest and regulate the recognition [of Ariel as a university].”
In May, Yisrael Beytenu MK Alex Miller said that the Ariel University upgrade was one of his party’s conditions for joining Netanyahu’s coalition government, and that a “tough situation” would be created if the upgrade was not granted.