JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s education minister expressed public support for turning a West Bank university center into a full university, and the Finance Ministry announced extra funding in advance of a committee vote on the issue.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz announced Sunday that his ministry would earmark extra funds for the Ariel University Center, which has more than 10,000 students, Jewish and Arab, so that it would not cut into the funding of Israel’s seven 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.
He added that approving the upgrade would be "a historic move that would contribute a great deal to the academia in Israel and would even have an important contribution to culture, economy, society and the strengthening of Ariel."
Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced his support for granting the Ariel school full university status on Sunday, saying that it would be in line with previous Cabinet decisions on the school.
The Judea and Samaria Higher Education Council is set to vote Tuesday on Ariel’s status. The Planning and Budgeting Committee of Israel’s Council for Higher Education recommended earlier this month to defer the decision until a comprehensive evaluation is undertaken in the next year, according to Israeli media reports.
Some public figures have opposed the upgrading of the Ariel center because it is located in the West Bank. The center has faced academic boycotts in the past.
Last month, the presidents of Israel’s seven existing universities called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to prevent the establishment of an eighth research university in Israel, citing a scarcity of resources. In a letter to Netanyahu, the presidents said that an eighth university would deal a "fatal blow to the higher education system in general, and the universities in particular."
In 2007, the Ariel academic center was granted temporary recognition as a so-called university center, and to reexamine its status within five years. Ariel, with a population of about 20,000, is located southwest of the Palestinian city of Nablus.