The head of the Council for Higher Education's planning and budgeting committee, Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, painted a grim picture of the country's "brain drain" on Monday during a presentation to the Knesset Education Committee regarding Israeli academics who choose to take their professions overseas.
According to Trajtenberg, nearly 25 percent of Israeli academics choose to live and work outside of the country, rendering Israel "the world's largest exporter of minds."
"There are nearly 4,000 senior professors and scientists currently working for various universities abroad, along with nearly 1,000 additional professors who are currently living outside of the country," Trajtenberg said. "That's more than any other country."
Trajtenberg also presented the committee with data taken from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which showed that the phenomenon of talented academics leaving their home countries was much less frequent elsewhere when compared to Israel.
According to the data, only 1.3% of Spanish academics decide to work or live abroad, followed by The Netherlands and Italy, which have experienced a brain drain of some 4%.
Additionally, Trajtenberg presented data showing that academics who had stayed in Israel were getting older. Nearly 48.3% of senior professors in Israeli universities are over the age of 55.
After Israel was the US, where 32.2% of senior professors are in their mid-to-late 50s, followed by Australia (24.9%) and the UK (16.9%).
"We are witnessing a fading process," Trajtenberg said of Israeli academia. "And it's manifesting itself in the brain drain. We're seeing older faculty members and an overall decline in academia's public stature."
If the situation continues unchecked, Trajtenberg warned, "Israel will not be able to produce the scientific research that it needs. We must bring younger people into academia."
However, Trajtenberg conceded that Israel was still ranked fifth in the world when it came to winning Nobel prizes for science in the past decade - quite a feat, he noted, considering the size of the country.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu also voiced his concerns about the brain drain during the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, in which he said the country needed to make an extra effort to create opportunities for Israeli academics abroad to return home.
During that meeting as well, ministers presented data on the subject, showing that a high number of professors and researchers at top US universities were in fact Israeli expats.
Netanyahu said that many US institutions had established special foundations to supply salary and research grants for senior professors.
"Is it possible to grant a differential salary to the star lecturers in Israel as well?" Netanyahu asked.
The prime minister further emphasized that the country needed to establish special bodies that "would act as a vacuum for those Israeli academics [who are currently abroad], to bring them back to Israeli academic institutions."