Ariel University Center of Samaria was voted Israel’s eighth full-fledged university by the Cabinet on Sunday. The move was supported by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said that granting the West Bank institution university status was an important step in strengthening Israel’s higher education system.
The prime minister said that he opposes monopolies, including in higher education, and added that the seven current universities were not enough to meet population growth.
The cabinet vote, which calls on IDF Central Command chief Brig.-Gen Nitzan Alon to approve the promotion, was backed by Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar but must still be approved by the High Court, the attorney general and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
The institution, located in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, was granted the enhanced status by the Council for Higher Education of Judea and Samaria in July, but recognition of the promotion has been held up by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who has said he wants to wait to explore the ramifications of such a move.
Recognizing Ariel as a university has become a hot button issue in recent months. Presidents of other universities opposed the move, arguing it would funnel state funds away from their institutions to Ariel. Left-wing Israelis said upgrading the school’s status would intensify Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and prompt objections from the international community.
The school was given the temporary “university center” status as a compromise five years ago.
Sa’ar said recognizing Ariel as a university would be good for the higher education system in Israel.
“The government sees the national importance of the conversion of the center to a university and instructs that the necessary measures be taken to confirm the resolution in accordance with the opinion of the attorney general,” the minister said in a statement.
He added that “40 years have passed since the last research university was established in Israel, and since then the population has tripled. The higher education system must continue to evolve and meet the need for quality education and advanced study in Israel.”
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, a long-time supporter of the university push, praised the move and said that “the government’s decision today confirms what was already required by the coalition agreement [between Yisrael Beytenu and Likud] — Ariel College will become a full-fledged university. All attempts to thwart the move, for ideological or other reasons, will not succeed.”