The Council for Higher Education’s planning and budgetary Committee on Wednesday evening recommended against giving university status to Ariel University Center, casting serious doubt on the institution’s quest to become Israel’s eighth university.

The council will hold a comprehensive examination on the matter in 2013 and will make a final decision on the matter.

Five of the council’s seven members supported the recommendation on Wednesday, while one opposed and one abstained.

MK Alex Miller (Yisrael Beytenu), the head of a Knesset faction devoted to making AUC a university, called the recommendation “a disgraceful decision” which he chalked up to the committee members’ “surrender to narrow political interests.” MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), also part of the Knesset faction, said the decision showed the “ugly politicization of Israeli Academia” and called for the government to be the body to make the decision over the status of AUC.

Wednesday’s recommendation came a week after the presidents of all 7 Israeli universities wrote a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz in which they said the declaration of Ariel University Center as a university would “deal a mortal blow to the higher education system in Israel.”

The presidents said such a declaration would negate all the advances made in Israeli academia in recent years and that there is no need for an eighth university in Israel.

In July 2012 AUC’s fiveyear transition period from being a college to a university is set to end, after which the institution is schedule to receive government funding for research.

The presidents’ letter followed a petition issued in January 2011 by 155 academics calling for an academic boycott of AUC because it is in the West Bank settlement of Ariel which they said violates international law.

AUC said the presidents letter “evades the real academic debate which deals with whether or not the AUC adheres to the academic and research standards that differentiate between a university and a college. The presidents are avoiding debating this status because most of them know the truth – the AUC meets all of the standards and criteria demanded of a university.