The Israeli brain drain of scientists and other academics is slowing, according to Science, Technology and Space Minister Yaakov Peri, who said on Sunday that last year, five percent of university and college graduates spent three years or more abroad.

Peri, who received the results of the Central Bureau of Statistics survey requested by the ministry’s National Council for Research and Development, said that nevertheless, almost 6% of the academics who left the country, mostly for the US, returned last year – twice as high a rate as in previous years.

To help cope with the brain drain, the ministry is setting up a national engineering fund that will supply incentives to Israelis with a doctoral degree in the field to return home.

But the CBS survey also disclosed worrisome statistics regarding the profile of those leaving and staying abroad. Of those with doctoral degrees in the exact sciences and engineering, 14% stayed abroad for three years or more – 3.7 times the figure of Ph.D. recipients in the social sciences and humanities, which was 4%.

The most serious brain-drain phenomenon was among graduates in mathematics, 22% of whom have been abroad for three years and up, 18% of those in computer sciences and 14% in archeology and engineering.

Peri said that the engineering fund just established has NIS 150 million at its disposal.

The money is set to be used to create jobs and incentives to return. As a result, the ministry hopes to see an improvement in returnee figures in the coming years. The survey examined academics who earned their degrees in Israel between 1987 and 2007. Data on graduates were supplied by the universities and colleges, and on those who left and entered the country by the Interior Ministry.

Israelis with PhDs were most likely (10.4%) to stay abroad, compared to those with only a bachelor’s degree (4.7%) and master’s degree (4.2%). But as the figures are stabilizing, said Peri, it seems there is now a greater trend to return.

Another group that tends to remain abroad more is physicians, because it’s easier for them to find well-paying work anywhere, said Prof. Yitzhak Ben-Yisrael, head of the National Council for Research and Development.

When examined according to gender, the statistics showed that 5.8% of the male academics with all kinds of degrees stayed abroad three years or more, compared to 4.2% of the women.

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