Applications to open 11 private colleges in Israel have been shelved while objections from public universites are considered by the Council for Higher Education.
Yehezkel Teller, deputy chairman of the council, says the decision reflects political and academic pressure at the highest level. Professor Teller, whose five-year tenure is almost up and who supports the private colleges, said: "We should put our finger on the academic level and not give up anything."
The CHE has received applications for permits from 11 colleges - about half of them new institutions and the rest branches of overseas universities seeking recognition as Israeli institutions.
If all 11 requests are approved, more than half of all Israeli colleges and universities will be private institutions. There are currently 18 public colleges and universities and nine private ones.
Public colleges feel threatened by the private ones, which are being granted special exemptions by the CHE. Instead of having to produce four generations of graduating classes before being allowed to award masters, some have been given these powers from the beginning.
Public universities claim that the CHE has been licensing private schools that do not meet its own criteria and also that too many private schools would leave public ones unable to compete for teachers and students.
Yuli Tamir, the Education Minister and chair of the CHE, argued that "no new private colleges should be licensed until a thorough study of the implications of such a move is conducted. I oppose private education, but I understand that there are governmental promises that must be kept."
She was referring to a 2005 law that said that staff at local branches of overseas universities would not be entitled to the public-sector employee salary rise, unlike staff at Israeli institutions.
But the law also authorised such branches to apply for recognition as Israeli institutions if they meet the CHE's criteria.