A Massive Donation and a Sheldon Adelson Medical School: Israeli West Bank University to Double in Size

Plan being promoted by Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett is estimated to cost about $113 million

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Students at the Ariel University library
Students at the Ariel University libraryCredit: Reuters

Ariel University is to double in size within the next five years, according to a plan now being promoted by Education Minister Naftali Bennett. Ten or twelve new buildings are to be added for new faculties in research and teaching at the university, located in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, as well as a new medical school, to be named after U.S. billionaire businessman Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam.

The subcommittee on funding of the Council for Higher Education in Israel recently approved the plan, which will also lead to a major increase in the student body from its current figure of 11,000. The funding subcommittee estimated the cost of the expansion at about 400 million shekels ($113 million). Funding is to come from the university’s state-funded budget, from its income from tuition and from donations.

In recent years the state increased funding to Ariel University after its controversial upgrade from a college in 2012. This year, the university’s budget is about 260 million shekels.

All the construction is to be completed within five years; some of the new buildings are already under construction or in the planning stages. One will house a faculty of Jewish heritage, another will be devoted to the natural sciences and another to the social sciences. Community health facilities, which will support a medical faculty, are also under construction.

Approximately 47,000 square meters are expected to be added to the campus, bringing its total built area to 104,000 square meters.

Ariel University informed the Council for Higher Education subcommittee on funding that it will not require additional state funding for the new construction. Most of the construction, it says, will be funded by surpluses from state money it received after being upgraded from a college to a university as well as from tuition payments and fundraising.

The 2012 upgrade from college status meant that Ariel University has earned an additional 16 million shekels a year in state funding. The Finance Ministry also allocated 86 million shekels to the university for four years beginning in 2014, along with an additional 24 million shekels on a one-time basis for infrastructure improvements.

U.S. casino magnate and Republican Party backer Sheldon Adelson in 2015. Credit: GARY CAMERON/REUTERS

The university said it now has 220 million shekels for the expansion plan, and will need to raise at least 180 million shekels more.

The funding subcommittee approved Ariel University’s expansion plan based on construction costs and funding provided by the university, but without a detailed report on funding sources for each new faculty and project, as is usually required before approval is granted. According to the subcommittee, the university’s finances are sound, given its budget surpluses. However, the university has a cumulative deficit of approximately 40 million shekels because of the funding it channels to new construction. The subcommittee therefore approved the university‘s expansion, but made this decision contingent on the reduction of the deficit in the coming years.

While the university will fund the bricks and mortar element of its expansion, the state will still have to increase its funding of Ariel University — since state funding is based on the numbers of students, faculty and research projects, which are all expected to increase with the expansion.

The Ariel University campus in the West Bank, seen in 2012.Credit: Moti Milrod

The jewel in the crown of the planned expansion will be a medical school – Israel’s sixth. Most of the funding for the medical faculty will come from a 20 million-dollar contribution from magnate Sheldon Adelson, owner of the free Hebrew daily newspaper Israel Hayom. The cornerstone for the new faculty, to be named after Adelson and his wife, Miriam, was laid this month, with the participation of Bennett, who is also the chairman of the Council for Higher Education.

Although the plan has the support of the finance sub-committee, it still needs the approval of the full Council for Higher Education before new faculties can open. A team from the Health Ministry that examined the idea of the new medical school has approved it. The expansion plan will be put to a vote by the Judea and Samaria Council for Higher Education, which will then submit a request for approval by the national council.

The medical school is to offer a four-year program, like the one in Safed and Tel Aviv University, intended for students with an undergraduate pre-med degree. According to the plan, 70 first-year students will join the program each year for the coming years. The school’s dean will be Prof. Shai Ashkenazi, who until recently had been chairman of the Israel Medical Association’s scientific council, and is a senior physician at Schneider Children’s Medical Center of Israel in Petah Tikva.

Israel’s growing and aging population needs more doctors, while the doctors who came to Israel in the 1990s from the former Soviet Union are now reaching retirement age and the number of physicians in Israel is slightly above average for Organization of Economic Development members – with 3.4 doctors per 1,000 patients compared to 3.1 per 1,000 among OECD members. Israel recently opened the medical school in Safed, affiliated with Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, and has also granted more licenses in recent years to Israelis who completed their medical studies abroad.

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