A petition calling on the Education Ministry to halt a process granting university status to the Ariel University Center in the West Bank has been signed by 1,000 academics, including 18 Israel Prize laureates. The original petition was sent to Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar with 300 signatures a month ago.

"Establishing a college in Ariel, its planned upgrading to a university, is part of a general settlement effort that has been at the center of Israeli political debate for the past 45 years," the petition states, adding, "Decisions pertaining to such an institution will be guided by political and not only academic considerations."

Prof. Nir Gov, of the Weizmann Institute of Science, who is behind the protest petition, said: "When did the Council for Higher Education decide that another university was needed in Israel? Who said that Ariel is the college that can most efficiently become an official research university in Israel?"

In opposition to the petition, Israel Prize laureate Prof. Meir Wilchek, of the Weizmann Institute, who is a member of the Council for Higher Education of Judea and Samaria, along with Nobel Prize laureate Prof. Yisrael Aumann, and three other professors, said on Saturday: "We examined Ariel academically and we found that, from the point of view of the quality of the scientists there, they are no less good than the scientists who signed the petition."

The monitoring committee of the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria found that the Ariel center meets necessary conditions for recognition as a university. The committee justified its decision by pointing to the rise in the number of doctoral students, the number of academic publications and the size of the center's faculty.

The next stage in the process of granting university status will be approval of a report by the board of the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria. The Council of Higher Education's planning and budgeting committee will then decide on the budgetary aspects of such a move.

In July the temporary recognition granted to the institution, as a university center, will expire.