Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz on Friday dispelled media reports that he had offered the Ariel University Center NIS 100 million for the 2013 budgetary cycle, but said that his ministry would provide at least some level of financial support for the institution in its quest to be recognized as Israel’s eighth university.

“The headline talking about NIS 100m. for the AUC is baseless,” he said.

“This sum is a complete fabrication, and there is nothing even resembling it that has been offered to the AUC.”

Steinitz, however, reaffirmed his support for the ongoing efforts to grant official university status to the AUC.

On Thursday, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar announced his sponsorship of the AUC.

“Israel can support eight universities,” he said. “There is nothing holy about the number seven,” which is the current number of recognized Israeli universities.

Sa’ar’s announcement contradicted recommendations made by the Council for Higher Education’s planning and budgetary committee, which on Wednesday came out against the institution’s quest to become a university.

MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beytenu) praised Sa’ar on Friday for his announcement.

“The statement of the education minister confirms what we have known now for a long time – that the Ariel University Center has for all intents and purposes been a university,” he said.

Miller, who heads a Knesset faction devoted to making the AUC a university, also slammed the Council for Higher Education. He called the council’s recommendation against the AUC “a disgraceful decision,” which he chalked up to the committee members’ “surrender to narrow political interests.”

Miller drafted legislation earlier last week, a copy of which was obtained on Thursday by The Jerusalem Post, which would try to circumvent the Council for Higher Education and allow the matter to be taken up directly by government.

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