Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz has asked Defense Minister Ehud Barak to approve the upgrade of the Ariel University Center of Samaria to full university status. After Barak announced on Sunday that he would not run for a seat in the next Knesset, Steinitz urged him on Monday to grant the center university status before he leaves office.
"I call on Barak to sign an order recognizing the Ariel center as a university. The decision has already been made in principle and there is no reason to drag this issue on any further," Steinitz said.
On Sunday, Israel Hayom reported that Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein believed there was no legal barrier to upgrading the center to full university status.
The government's ability to approve an upgrade for Ariel is contingent upon Weinstein's legal opinion. On Sept. 9, the cabinet passed a largely symbolic resolution to upgrade the university. The center now essentially only awaits the approval of GOC Central Command Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon.
Steinitz has vowed to provide NIS 50 million ($13 million) to the center — NIS 20 million ($5.2 million) in the first year after it officially receives the upgrade, and NIS 30 million ($7.8 million) in its second year. The funds would not be at the expense of budgets for other universities, Steinitz said.
The heads of Israel's seven universities are protesting the government's intention to recognize the center as a university. Professor Manuel Trajtenberg, who heads the Planning and Budget Committee for the national Council for Higher Education, has also criticized the move.
The center was established in 1982 and today boasts more than 13,000 students. More than 150 research projects are underway in various faculties at the center, some in coordination with other universities and security-related industries in the country, including Rafael and Elbit. The Defense Ministry has commissioned several projects from the center and has consistently been its largest source of income.
Defense Ministry officials declined to comment on the request by Steinitz.