Israel’s Council for Higher Education approved on Tuesday upgrading the status of Herzliya’s Interdisciplinary Center, making it into the first ever privately-run university in Israel.
Virtually all other Israeli universities are critical of the move, which comes at the end of a years long bid of the Herzliya based institution.
The Council of Higher Education has previously come under fire from other universities when it green-lighted an expansion of Ariel University campus into the West Bank earlier this year.
In Ariel, a new medicine faculty was added to the campus and named after conservative american billionaire Sheldon Adelson. Adelson, a longtime backer of the right in Israel, donated both to Ariel University and to Herzliya’s Interdisciplinary Center.
“We have not received a single shekel from the state over the years but we benefit from the support of civil society. The Adelson family is one of the many donors we have but there is no connection between its donation to Ariel University and the IDC,” the Herzliya University said in a statement.
The IDC will now launch graduate programs similar to those at other public universities and will launch a bid with the Council for Higher Education to get its first Ph.D programs approved as well. The further upgrade will be discussed at a Council meeting chaired by Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday.
Bennett is the head of the Council by virtue of his post as minister of education but he does not usually attend the meetings, though he is expected to come in and support the IDC Ph.D bid this time. Up to now, Ph.D. programs have only been offered at universities that carry out research.
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“I call on my colleagues to support this. The standards there (at the IDC, N.T.) are very high. Research diversity is good for Israeli academia and it’s time to open up” Bennett wrote on his social networks.
The IDC was established by Prof. Uriel Reichman in the 90s, becoming one of the first private colleges in Israel. Since then it has grown significantly, becoming one of Israel’s leading colleges.
The IDC is not funded by the state, which is why tuition costs forty thousand shekels a year ($11,500) for undergraduate programs. In average, undergraduate tuition fees in Israel cost four times less, averaging around 10,066 shekels a year ($2,880).
In an official statement, the committee of university presidents slammed the recognition of the IDC as a “regular” university and the proposal of starting PHD degrees there.
“Instead of advancing national interests by promoting academic research and making Israel a leader in groundbreaking research, there is now a move to allow a specific college to grant Ph.D. degrees. (...) This move will cheapen the value of Ph.D. degrees,” the statement claimed.
“We hope that those responsible for looking after Israel’s academic and national interests will quickly understand the enormity of their error and stop this move which will harm future generations of Israeli researchers,” it added.
The Council dismissed the criticism recalling how “higher education institutions are allowed to submit proposals for Ph.D. programs as long as they meet defined requirements” and standing by the IDC expected upgrade.
Education minister Naftali Bennet also stood by the decision and said the Council was right in treating Ariel University like all others even though it is located in the West Bank. Ariel University is often subjected to international boycotts because its campus is beyond the UN-sanctioned Green Line.
“The opening of a Ph.D. program at the IDC is good news for Israel’s academic world, as it will broaden the diversity of research. Further good news is the legislation which equalizes the conditions enjoyed by Ariel University and its new medicine faculty to those in other universities,” the office of Bennett said in a statement.