Ariel University in the West Bank.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Last week, the Council of Higher Education voted to overturn a previous decision it had made and to not allow Ariel University to establish a medical school.
The vote was ordered Deputy Attorney-General Dina Zilber due to an alleged conflict of interest by one of the members of the council who had voted in favor of establishing the faculty of medicine in the original vote – six months ago – even though she was a candidate to teach at the institution as part of the teacher training program.
The new vote revoking approval for the medical school undid a previous decision in July when it voted 4-2 to establish the faculty at the university, located over the Green Line in the West Bank.
While we understand the need for good governance and not allowing conflicts of interest to exist, this is a bad decision, especially at a time when the country is facing one of the greatest healthcare crises in Israeli history, partly caused by a shortage of doctors.
It is no secret that Israel’s universities are run by something of a cartel. The existing universities do not want to allow the establishment of more schools so as not to have to share state-allocated budgets. The institution in Ariel faced this exact challenge when in 2012 it went from being an independent college to a fully-accredited university, despite fierce opposition by some of the university heads. One called the 2012 decision a “dark day” for Israel’s higher education. These university heads were not concerned with the establishment of an academic institution over the Green Line, but rather with the fact that a new university would mean more competition for state funds and would make their jobs more difficult attracting students and top lecturers.
Today, Ariel University is home to more than 15,000 students and 300 faculty members. In the field of health sciences, the university already offers a pre-med program and has 30 research labs.
The problem is that Israel currently has five other medical schools: the Azrieli Faculty of Medicine of Bar-Ilan University in Safed; the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine of the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa; the Sackler Faculty of Medicine of Tel Aviv University; the Hadassah School of Medicine of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; and the Joyce and Irving Goldman Medical School of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba.
Another medical school would mean greater competition, for students and money.
The school, though, is needed. According to the Israel Medical Association, Israel faces a severe healthcare crisis, largely due to a lack of both licensed medical personnel and training vacancies for students. A recent report by the OECD, for example, found that the number of people who finish medical school in Israel is one of the lowest in the developed world – 3.8 students per 100,000 people, compared to the OECD average of 11.2.
A shortage of doctors is one of many problems with Israel’s health system. While life expectancy in Israel is one of the highest in the world, the country lacks nurses, hospital beds and medical equipment. Twenty-three of the 36 OECD countries spend more; 18 countries have more doctors per capita; 30 countries have more nurses; 33 have more medical graduates and 26 countries have more nursing graduates per capita.
And just a few weeks ago, the Health Ministry toughened the criteria for recognizing medical studies abroad, where many Israeli doctors end up going to school due to the lack of space and opportunity in the country.
This situation has to stop and an election season is the perfect time to start demanding that it does.
Israel’s politicians love to talk about Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas’s tunnels under the border with the Gaza Strip. It gives them an opportunity to appear tough and to deflect having to confront the issues that most Israelis face on a daily basis like healthcare.
A first step would be to see the political parties running in the election present a plan to improve Israel’s health system. Sadly, most parties refrain from publishing a platform since, why should they if no one demands it of them? Israelis’ lives are on the line. Not because of Iran or missiles stockpiled in Syria. But because there are not enough doctors.
Give Ariel a medical school.
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