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The College of Judea and Samaria in Ariel can upgrade to a "university center" following a decision by the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria (CHE-JS), the body which oversees curricula at academic institutions in the territories. The college will be granted temporary recognition as a university for five years, during which it will be termed a "university center."

A member of the national Council for Higher Education (CHE) - the body responsible for academic institutions in Israel - said the CHE-JS had "pulled a fast one." Several members of the CHE told Haaretz they were unaware of the decision.

Meanwhile, the CHE has begun proceedings to suspend the activity of the CHE-JS in its present format, citing a series of moves that bypass the authority of the CHE and the Planning and Budgeting Committee (PBC), foremost among these the campaign to transform Ariel College into a university. The CHE decided last May 30 that all its members would also serve as members of the CHE-JS, effectively replacing the latter's membership and merging the two bodies. But the decision has stalled over legal issues deriving from the fact that the CHE Law does not define the territories as part of Israel.

The CHE-JS decision to upgrade the college was made last August 30, but was not publicized despite the public interest and controversy over opening an Israeli university in the West Bank. Chair of the CHE-JS, Professor Amos Altschuler, stated in response: "We do not publish any decision, and so far have not published any decision."

CHE-JS posed a single condition for granting the status of "university center" - opening master's programs in four departments. The college currently offers an M.A. in social work, and the CHE-JS is reviewing the college's application to open master's tracks in psychology, electrical engineering and electronics, and business administration.

According to Altschuler, once master's programs are up and running in four departments, the college will automatically qualify for the term "university center," and enter a period of temporary recognition en route to achieving university status after five years. Permanent status would be conditional upon the college implementing a series of development plans, including: increasing the number of publications by 50 percent; increasing the number of faculty members with doctorates by 30 percent; increasing the number of research students; making research facilities available to all faculty members in experimental fields; and increasing the library's acquisitions budget by 30 percent each year.

A fierce battle is raging over upgrading colleges into universities. Colleges in northern Israel asked to merge into the "Galilee University," but the CHE and PBC turned them down, saying there is no need for another university at this point. Private colleges (among them the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya and Netanya College) are demanding to be called universities, but the CHE is delaying a response to this request.

The move to upgrade Ariel College began in May 2005, when the Sharon-Peres government declared that it ascribes "national importance" to turning the college into a university, "as a lever to strengthen the higher education system in the area." The CHE appointed a committee, headed by the chair of the PBC, Professor Shlomo Grossman, to formulate recommendations on the issue of founding another university. But in August 2005, Limor Livnat, who was education minister at the time and a staunch supporter of Ariel College, instructed the CHE-JS to form a committee to evaluate the college's academic activity and draft recommendations on upgrading it to a university.

This committee was made up entirely of top-notch scholars, but all right-wingers: "Their conclusions were forgone," says a CHE member. Their report stated that, "The college already functions in effect as a university to all intents and purposes, except for areas prohibited to it as a college." Enraged CHE officials sent a letter to CHE-JS, charging that the committee's appointment is "a grave step, which smacks of intervening in the authority of the PBC."

The PBC ruled against establishing "another university in Israel of the existing model" in the next five years. The CHE-JS committee's convoluted wording gave it an opening to approve recognition of Ariel College as a university without explicitly contradicting the PBC ruling.