Academic research is being neglected

Many talented Israelis live, work overseas and future calls to Israelis who win the Nobel Prize will probably also be made to US telephone numbers.

By
October 25, 2013 07:55
4 minute read.
Nobel laureate professor Arieh Warshel.

Nobel laureate Arieh Warshel 370. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The fierce public debate over how to view Israelis who go live overseas intensified last week following Yair Lapid’s comment about Israelis living and working in Germany and Mifal Hapayis national lottery chairman Uzi Dayan’s comment that, “Israelis who go live in Germany repulse me.”

In response, Yael Dayan, a Tel Aviv city councilwoman and a cousin of Uzi, said she doesn’t think we should criticize Israelis who leave the country and that living abroad does not constitute a betrayal of Zionism.

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This debate was already a much-discussed issue back in the days when Yitzhak Rabin was prime minister, and was overheard calling Israelis who live overseas “wimps.”

Some people agree with Rabin, whereas others are just jealous and would join them if they could.

And yet a third group is completely indifferent to the public discourse on this issue.

A study carried out by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel paints an extremely bleak picture of higher education in the country. “The State of Israel currently invests NIS 26,000 in every student, compared with NIS 82,000 in the 1970s.

Within four decades, the amount Israel pays per student has decreased by more than threefold.

“Over the last few years, the ‘brain drain’ phenomenon has worsened, and the situation in Israel is now worse than in any other Western country.

Research in Israeli universities is consistently being neglected,” the report said.

The study claims that in 1973 there were 131 senior university staff personnel per 100,000 people in the population. This ratio decreased in 2011 to 62 senior staff per 100,000 – or 53 percent fewer, even though the number of students enrolled in schools of higher education (including private colleges) rose by 428%.

A number of Israeli universities have indeed formed centers for excellence and leading Israeli and foreign researchers have been hired and large amounts of funding have been allocated. The question remains, however, why have only a small number of such centers been formed and why don’t all Israeli universities follow this principle? Additionally, salaries of senior lecturers have decreased dramatically and more and more researchers are ranked as junior faculty and are therefore not eligible for large research grants. The result is that many researchers abandon the universities for jobs in the private sector or in research centers overseas which pay significantly higher salaries. The Taub Center study also reveals that one-third of Israeli university-level researchers are employed by American institutions, and this number is steadily growing.

Prof. Dan Ben David writes in the Taub study that, “one out of every seven economists in tenuretrack positions at the 10 leading economics departments at American universities is an Israeli. This is a huge loss for Israel and it is worth our while to offer Israelis overseas incentives to come back home.”

An article in the TheMarker quotes the Central Bureau of Statistics: “In 2011, 14% of Israeli citizens who completed doctorates in science and engineering have lived overseas for an extended period of time and have no plans to return to Israel. Of Israelis who completed doctorates between the years 1985 and 2005, only 10.5% have spent time living overseas and have no plans to return to Israel.”

Another survey carried out by the Economic Strategy Ministry and the Central Bureau of Statistics shows that close to 6,000 Israeli scientists who live overseas have no plans to come back to live in Israel.

The number of “brains” leaving Israel is actually slowly and consistently falling, but the ones who are leaving now most likely will never come back.

Academic and research institutions in the US offer Israeli researchers more tenure-track positions, larger budgets, better opportunities in quality research programs, higher salaries and more benefits. It is no wonder then that Jewish brains continue to invent patents and win Nobel prizes in America and not in Israel.

The main problem lies in the fact that the world of academia in Israel has not adapted to the modern age. We have not internalized the importance of keeping scientists at home. Teaching methods at Israeli universities remain antiquated while the rest of the world has modernized and is more accessible at very low costs – even to people living in jungles in Africa.

Here in Israel, on the other hand, academia has become a business. If you can pay, you can get a degree. If you can’t pay, you can’t. And it costs a lot – especially the private colleges, which is where most Israelis end up studying since the universities can only accept a small number of those who apply. The veteran universities receive huge budgets from the state and offer limited courses of study taught by faculty members who in many cases are years past their prime.

The colleges (especially the technological ones) on the other hand, offer a variety of study and research tracks. However, since they do not receive government subsidies as the universities do, they charge extremely high tuition and do not offer research opportunities.

The sad outcome is that many talented Israelis live and work overseas and future calls to Israelis who won the Nobel Prize will probably also be made to US telephone numbers.

The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).

Translated by Hannah Hochner.


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