Education Officials: Plan to Open Fifth Medical School Premature

The Council for Higher Education and the Finance Ministry do not know how much money will be needed to set up Bar-Ilan University's planned medical school in Safed, the country's fifth med school. It is also not clear where the money will come from.

Moreover, although Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, who is also minister for the development of the Negev and Galilee, announced about two weeks ago that the new medical school would open in October, the Council for Higher Education says this is impossible.

Prof. Peretz Lavi of the Technion, which with the University of Haifa bid unsuccessfully to open the new school in Safed, said the decision to start up the institution was "tainted with a great deal of populism and short-term thinking."

A few days before the Technion and the University of Haifa were to have appeared before a committee, they were asked to streamline their proposals due to budget constraints.

"I could not promise them the world ... for a school to open this year. It already needs to recruit students ... for whom there are currently no labs and facilities," Lavi said. The objections he raised "rather decided the fate of our proposal."

Two weeks ago, a committee of experts appointed by the Council for Higher Education decided that Bar-Ilan would open the school. The council is set to ratify the committee's decision next week.

However, the chairman of the council's committee of experts, Prof. Aharon Beit-Halahmi, said the council would approve Bar-Ilan's proposal only if a full local faculty has been recruited and infrastructure is sufficient.

An estimated NIS 100 million would be needed to open the school; Beit-Halahmi says the Finance Ministry would have to provide it. It's expected that Bar-Ilan would receive donations to open the school and the state would fund tuition.

The Finance Ministry said it was "not involved in the issue and therefore was not apprised of the details," although treasury officials said the ministry supported the plan.

The Council for Higher Education said it "would not allow an expedited process to harm the academic level of the new school."

The Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee said that "the budget required to open the medical school in the first year is relatively small" and that the ministry has reached understandings with the treasury to open for the first year.

It also said it had reached an agreement with Safed's Rebecca Sieff Hospital to install prefabricated buildings for the school, and to provide labs and office space. The Safed municipality would refurbish a hotel as student dorms, the ministry added.

"Everyone should work together instead of taking the easy road of rejection," the ministry said.