Professor Dan Shechtman 390.
(photo credit: Lihee Avidan)
Israel’s future as a world leader in research and innovation will be bleak
unless the state invests more in funding research centers, Prof. Dan Shechtman,
the 2011 Nobel Prize laureate for Chemistry said on Thursday.
“If we look
at the number of Jews in Israel as being similar to the number outside of Israel
and look at the number of Israelis who won Nobel Prizes, you see the chances are
about 10 times higher for a Jew outside of Israel to win the Nobel Prize than a
Jew who lives in Israel.”
Shechtman, a professor at the Technion-Israel
Institute of Technology, said the problem is a shortage of infrastructure to
support researchers, adding that the majority of Israelis who have won Nobel
Prizes partnered with researchers or scientists from foreign countries or they
themselves performed their work abroad, where there is a much better
infrastructure of support for academic research.
“It’s great to pat
ourselves on the shoulder, but we must look at the entire picture,” Shechtman
Shechtman’s comments came during a panel called “The Future of
Israel’s Higher Education” held at the Herzliya Conference at the
The panel dealt with the paradox of Israel
being seen as a center of innovation and academic success, while at the same
time dealing with a declining state primary school system. The discussion came
the same week that the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
(OECD) ranked Israel the second-most educated country in the world.
ranking cited among other factors, the fact that 45% of Israel’s population has
a university or college diploma.
In his comments, Prof. Menachem
Yaari of the Center for the Study of Rationality at the Hebrew University of
Jerusalem described how the United States became a research and science leader
in the post-WWII years due to the massive investment of the federal
Yaari also described how the government of Israel spends $80
million per year on the national science foundation, as opposed to the US
federal government, which he said budgets $80 billion per year to the support of
research institutions. He clarified that while it is true that the US is 50
times larger than Israel in terms of population, the government spends 1,000
times as much on research.
“If you ask leading Israeli researchers where
they did their research, most of them would say they did it abroad,” he
To emphasize this point, he stated that each of the 20 leading
research institutions in the United States invests more individually than the
state of Israel invests each year.
Aaron Ben-Ze’ev, president of the
University of Haifa, argued that greater cooperation between universities and
private and state colleges would help Israeli researchers keep up with their
counterparts in the United States and elsewhere.
Israel Prize laureate
and former education minister Amnon Rubinstein called on the state to invest in
a system of community colleges, saying that it would help those who are
disadvantaged and don’t benefit enough from a strong support system at
He said that he doesn’t believe that the Council for Higher
Education should be abolished, but that it must go through large-scale
The panel also dealt briefly with how innovations in technology,
particularly the Internet, have changed how students learn and if they pose a
threat to the university model.
Rubinstein said since the time of
Socrates and Aristotle higher education has more or less followed the same
method, and he expects the situation will remain about the same in the coming
Prof. Mordechai Sokolov from the Tel Aviv Academic College of
Engineering said he believes that computers and online technology will never
entirely replace the value of interpersonal interaction in education.
also maligned current deficiencies in Israeli students of the digital
generation, saying that “the average Israeli student doesn’t know a single thing
about Islam even though we are surrounded by Muslims on all sides.”