Mayors and council heads in the Galilee and the Golan Heights have criticized the minister of education and Council for Higher Education chairman Gideon Sa’ar for advancing recognition of a university in Ariel but not the establishment of a university in the Galilee. This, even though the government decided on the establishment of the two universities on the same day, in May 2005.

In acting to advance the transformation of the college in Ariel into a university, Sa’ar frequently cited Government Resolution 3678 from 2005, in which is was decided that “the government sees national importance in transforming the college known as the Ariel University Center of Samaria into a university, as a lever for strengthening the higher education system in the region.”

This week the education minister clarified his position to the chairman of the Judea and Samaria Higher Education Council, Prof. Amos Altshuler: “To dispel any doubt, this decision is still in effect as it has never been revoked, by virtue of the principle of the continuity of the administration.”

However, that same resolution states: “The government sees national importance in the establishment of a university in the Galilee as a key lever for the development of the region.” This part of the resolution has not been advanced by the minister.

At the time, the ministers voted unanimously to establish a university in the Galilee, while the transformation of Ariel College into a university engendered a stormy debate.

The model for the Galilee is of a multi-campus university based on the existing colleges in the north: Tel Hai, Kinneret, Jezreel, Safed, the Western Galilee and Braude, but in 2006 the Higher Education Council decide that until 2011 there was no academic planning need for establishing additional universities in Israel.

A year ago Silvan Shalom, the minister for the development of the Negev and Galilee, recalled the decision and said that “the establishment of a university is important and essential and will bring about a change like the one brought about in the south by Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.”

The planned university, according to Shalom, would employ up to 10,000 people. He also said that 1.25 million people live in the northern region but there is no university there from which they can benefit. By comparison, 1.25 million people live in the Tel Aviv area and in the southern region there are 893,000 inhabitants, and both places have significant universities.

The Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Higher Education Council, headed by Prof. Emanuel Trajtenberg, opposes the recognition of Ariel College as a university. According to Trajtenberg, “The very question of whether the college in Ariel is worthy of recognition as a university, when asked without reference to the broader context − planning, economics and the like − is extremely problematic and in the best case reflects nostalgia for an earlier era, which is long gone. In the worse case this is a conscious and sharp deviation from basic principles of egalitarianism and fairness. It is untenable that such a fundamental question be discussed and decided by a body responsible for only one general institution of higher education ‏(and two teachers’ colleges‏), out of 67 institutions, in which there are only 3 percent of the total number of students.”

Sa’ar dismissed Trajtenberg’s remarks on Wednesday, and in advance of a meeting of the Judea and Samaria Higher Education Council wrote a letter to its members in which he said Trajtenberg is the one who has overstepped his authority. He also wrote: “I see fit to reject charges regarding the government’s involvement in decisions relating to the higher education system.”