Israel needs to allocate more funds to higher education in order to solve its ongoing brain drain problem, Tel Aviv University president Joseph Klafter told The Jerusalem Post in an interview on Monday.
Looking at recent figures published by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies, which revealed that Israel is the country experiencing the greatest academic brain drain to the United States, with 29 Israeli scholars in the US for every 100 remaining at home, Klafter explained that the issue is “not new and has been around for a while.”
“What brain drain means is that the number of researchers produced by the higher education system is higher than the number of positions we have in the academia and in the industry,” he said.
“The solution, or one of the solutions to this problem is that the higher education system needs to be able to absorb more researchers. We are in fact understaffed in terms of faculty members.”
This is particularly true at TAU, Klafter told the Post, where the number of faculty members has gone down from 1,300 to only 950 in the past few years.
“When you look at the ratio between students and faculty, on the international level, we are placed quite low,” he added, “If we had more funds in higher education, there is no doubt that additional positions would open and part of the brains would be able to be regained. But without more funds to correct this student- faculty ratio, I don’t see how this problem can be solved.”
Klafter also addressed this week’s satisfaction survey conducted by the National Union of Israeli Students, which showed that students in the country are less and less satisfied with the quality of teaching in the higher education system.
“Universities may mostly be knowledge producers, but they also have a teaching role in parallel,” he said. “We do need to take these surveys very seriously and see how we can meet the expectations of students. We need to look at what a university can do in the 21st century, in order to refresh and renew interactions with students.”
Klafter mentioned that several steps have been taken at TAU in order to improve teaching methods, including some implementation of the flipped classroom approach, and offering online courses.
“Nevertheless, we need to make clear what we mean by lecturers’ attitudes towards students and quality of teaching: Us it easy learning and high grades, or is it challenging and sometimes difficult studies?” Concerning the new academic year, which kicked off across the country on Sunday, Klafter told the Post that it begun “smoothly and with a lot of plans.”
As part of this year’s novelties, the university has opened several new study tracks in domains such as brain sciences, biomedicine, cyber technology and marine biotechnology.
Klafter also said that TAU aims to continue to strengthen its international relationships this year, following several academic and research cooperation agreements that it recently signed with institutions in China, including Tsinghua University in Beijing.
“The whole academic world is moving in the global direction,” he stated. “Globalization or internationalization are key words here.”
According to Klafter, until today, Israel mostly looked to the West for this kind of cooperation, but “the awakening world is in the East, in places like China, India or Singapore.”
“We want to be part of this awakening world, which not only gives new points of view on science, but also exposes us to excellent students from this part of the world,” he explained. “The problems we face in the academia in the 21st century are problems with solutions which require a lot of viewpoints and different perspectives. These can come from many different fields of knowledge, but also from different approaches, different cultures, different ways of thinking.”
As far as his advice for the 308,335 students who begun the academic year on Sunday, Klafter said: “Study what you love, and only what you love. The role of the university, beyond the teaching, is to give you the tools to deal with life outside of the campus later. I believe TAU provides these tools.”