Ariel University to Offer Stipends to International Ph.D. Students

In an attempt to 'promote international research ties,' the West Bank university is pushing to attract foreign students despite the Ph.D. program not yet receiving official approval

The Ariel University in the West Bank.
\ Moti Milrod

Foreign Ph.D. candidates at Ariel University will be eligible for stipends from the Israel Council for Higher Education, although the council never approved Ariel University’ Ph.D. program. The council’s powerful subcommittee for planning and budgeting recently released a statement about the new stipend program for doctoral students from abroad who come to Israel for a year of study, and Ariel University is among the institutions involved in the program.

According to higher education officials, the subcommittee’s approval of Ariel University as part of the stipend program is an attempt “to expedite, by the back door, recognition of the Ph.D. program at Ariel,” and shows that the subcommittee had become “a political rubber stamp.”

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According to the subcommittee’s statement, released two weeks ago, the program’s goal is to “strengthen research in Israel and promote international research ties.” The statement mentioned that the program would apply to “each of the eight universities with doctoral programs,” that is, including Ariel University.

The Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria, which operates by dint of a military order, has approved the Ph.D. program at Ariel University.

Figures familiar with the matter say approval of the stipend program did not involve discussion of the doctoral program at Ariel University either by the subcommittee or the Israel Council for Higher Education.

Earlier this week Haaretz revealed the minutes of a meeting of the subcommittee in mid-July in which the establishment of a medical school at Ariel University was approved. The minutes show that the decision was expedited, without answering hard questions about funding, academic level and clinical training.

Ariel University’s website lists 18 fields in which it awards Ph.D.s, including electrical engineering, electronics, Jewish heritage, social work and education, and a list of 60 Ph.D. advisers.

The issue of doctorates and professorships at Ariel University has been in dispute for years. While the Council for Higher Education, at least before Naftali Bennett’s tenure as education minister, has said that the granting of these degrees had not been legally approved (and so they are not considered equal in validity to degrees from abroad), Ariel University claims that its doctorates are Israeli degrees and were approved by the Judea and Samaria Council for Higher Education.

In internal documents obtained by Haaretz, Prof. Altshuler, chairman of the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria, said that after the Judea and Samaria council recognized Ariel University in 2012, there were no more restrictions on doctoral studies. Ariel University expressed the same stand when in 2015 officials there told Haaretz that “an agreement with the subcommittee stated that doctorates would not be awarded until July 2012 – the time when Ariel was upgraded to the permanent status of university.”

The members of the Judea and Samaria Council for Higher Education, which oversees academic institutions beyond the 1967 border, are public figures identified with the right wing and Israeli professors who hold past or present positions in Israeli academia. At the beginning of this year Bennett backed an amendment to expand the authority of the Israel Council for Higher Education to academic institutions in the West Bank. By the time the amendment takes effect, in February 2019, the Israel council will have to decide whether it accepts decisions made by the Judea and Samaria council, or whether it wants to make its own assessment of curricula and degrees awarded to West Bank institutions.

So far the Israel Council for Higher Education has only discussed a small number of master’s degree programs at Ariel University. Various officials said they believed the Israel council would be pressured to approve decisions made by the Judea and Samaria council, which are “considered more lenient,” as one official said.

The Israel council’s subcommittee said this week that Ariel University awards doctorates according to recognition accorded by the Judea and Samaria council, but added that “the degree approval procedure in the council has not yet been completed.”

A person familiar with the issue said: “The subcommittee works in the framework of the Council for Higher Education in Israel. It’s inconceivable for it to fund a program that has not been examined and may be operating according to standards other than those applying to doctoral studies at other universities.”

Another person familiar with the subject said: “The possibility of studying for a doctorate and granting the degree stems not only from the fact that an institution has been recognized as a university... There is no validity to the claim that from the moment of recognition as a university, Ariel can teach toward a doctorate like other institutions with experience and recognition for decades. This must not be allowed to pass in this way.”

Under pressure from Bennett, the planning and funding subcommittee also approved the granting of Ph.D.’s to the law school and the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. Sources noted that both the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center and Ariel University are generously supported by American gambling mogul Sheldon Adelson, controlling owner of the daily Israel Hayom. Adelson and Bennett met last week at the ceremony marking the establishment of a medical school at Ariel University, due to open next year.

The planning and budgeting subcommittee responded that the Judea and Samaria council had approved the granting of Ph.D.s at Ariel University and that it was “authorized to do so by law.” The subcommittee said that “as the body also responsible for funding higher education in Judea and Samaria, it funds all the activity – including stipends and grants for scholars at these institutions.”

Ariel University responded: “Upon receiving the status of a university center [in 2006], based on criteria, the Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria approved senior scholars with experience and proven successful work as advisers.” Ariel University also said: “No department has blanket approval to award doctorates.”