Education Minister Calls Extraordinary Meeting of Higher Education Panel to Approve Ariel University

The meeting will be dedicated to one issue only: to provide further official endorsement of the status of Ariel University - in the West Bank city of Ariel - as a university.

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In an highly unusual move, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar (Likud) will convene today an unscheduled meeting of the Council for Higher Education, which Sa'ar chairs as part of his ministerial duties. The meeting will be dedicated to one issue only: to provide further official endorsement of the status of Ariel University - in the West Bank city of Ariel - as a university.

Sa'ar wants to "annex" the decision of the Judea and Samaria Council for Higher Education from July to upgrade Ariel's status to that of a university, Haaretz has learned. The state Council for Higher Education objected to the move. Two weeks ago, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein ruled there was no reason to prevent the Ariel University Center of Samaria, as it was previously known, from being recognized as an accredited university. In the wake of that decision, Defense Minister Ehud Barak ordered the head of the army's Central Command, Gen. Nitzan Alon, to approve the recommendations made by the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria. The cabinet also overwhelmingly approved the move in September.

Invitations to the unscheduled meeting were sent out by text message. This is considered extremely unusual and used only in exceptional cases. A number of members of the council were furious over Sa'ar's move, which is taking place only two weeks before the January 22 Knesset election. "After hearing a survey on the matter, and in light of the continued professional process conducted by the Judea and Samaria Council for Higher Education's monitoring committee, the Council for Higher Education endorses the completion of the process of recognizing Ariel University in the Shomron," states the text of the proposed decision to be voted on by the Council for Higher Education, which Haaretz has obtained. The Judea and Samaria Council for Higher Education, which operates in the territories in conjunction with the Council for Higher Education in Israel proper, ruled that the Ariel campus should be recognized as a university. The Judea and Samaria education council was established in 1997 after the Council for Higher Education refused to deal with issues relating to academic institutions over the Green Line. Judea and Samaria Regional Council regulations authorize the head of the army's Central Command to function as the government in the area on decisions of the state Council for Higher Education.

In August, the Council of Presidents of Israeli Universities, which represents all of Israel's research universities, filed a petition in the High Court of Justice against the recognition of the Ariel University Center as a full-fledged university. The petition will be heard at the end of the month. Sa'ar recently called on the presidents to withdraw the petition. The presidents' council said Monday: "As is well known, the matter is in front of the High Court of Justice and we are waiting for its decision."

Gideon Sa'ar.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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