Israeli College Heads Decry Favorable Treatment for Settlement Institute

Colleges protesting the expected upgrade of the University Center at Ariel are demanding that any decision made on structure of higher education be transparent.

Officials at several academic colleges are protesting the "inequitable" process by which the University Center at Ariel is being advanced toward university status - even after the center was initially refused the designation by the Council for Higher Education last week.

"This is not political opposition," one official hastened to stress, referring to the fact that Ariel is over the Green Line. "This is a demand to respect the Council of Higher Education Law, which requires equal treatment."

The colleges, which are protesting the expected upgrade for the first time, are demanding that any decision made regarding the structure of higher education be transparent. This includes, they say, upgrades to university status and the creation of a new status, "university center." They also want every college to have an equal opportunity to be evaluated and to prove it meets transparent criteria, and to get recognition and budgets accordingly.

On Sunday, Prof. Nehemia Friedlander, president of the Tel Aviv Academic College, sent a letter to Moshe Vigdor, the director-general of the Council for Higher Education and the Planning and Budgeting Committee, demanding to get the criteria for becoming a university.

"Perhaps the institution that I head, which has done well on all tests of academic quality, also meets these criteria," wrote Friedlander.

"The decisions regarding Ariel were political decisions," argued Prof. Aliza Shenhar, chairman of the Committee of Public College Heads and president of the Jezreel Valley Academic College. "If the finance minister decides on his own, or at the behest of the prime minister, to allocate money to a specific institution, that's unreasonable conduct in a properly run state. This whole process was not an honest process."

As was reported in Haaretz last week, a senior member of the CHE's Planning and Budgeting Committee revealed that Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz had promised to transfer NIS 100 million to the Ariel University Center as part of an effort to have it upgraded to university status - bypassing the bodies authorized to deal with funding academic institutions. When this was first reported, Steinitz did not respond.

But on Sunday, in response to a second query, his media adviser said, "No such sum or anything like it was promised for 2013. With that, the finance minister supports turning the center into a university, and, to the degree that it will be helpful, a budgetary solution will have to be found."

Asked if some other amount had been promised, she answered, "There were some suggestions raised, but no promises were made."

It was the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria, the academic authority in the territories, that set the criteria for turning the Ariel center - which had been the College of Judea and Samaria - into a university. This was also the committee that recommended to the CHE that the center had met the criteria.

"There's a problem of procedure here," said Friedlander. "Every institution that sees itself as suitable must be allowed to submit itself to evaluation. They created a whole process here of dealing with one institution and leaving the whole rest of the system on the side."

A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday in the Knesset Education Committee on "the refusal of the university heads to recognize the Ariel center."

Ariel University