'Budget cuts to higher education sabotaging Israel’s existential strategic asset'

"Budget cuts means cuts in personnel and damage to academic research. The cuts will strengthen brain drain across the sea and equally important, will harm the students."

The national library of Israel on the Givat Ram campus, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. (photo credit: Courtesy)
The national library of Israel on the Givat Ram campus, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The heads of academic institutions warned on Tuesday that the opening of the upcoming academic year would be in jeopardy if planned budget cuts to the higher education system were to pass.
The cuts would see the system’s budget slashed by some NIS 100 million in the coming year, and by some NIS 500 million over the course of the next five years.
The announcement comes against the backdrop of ongoing discussions surrounding the economic arrangements bill and the two-year budget, as well as the formulation of a new fiveyear plan for higher education by the Council for Higher Education (CHE).
“You cannot call and aim for excellence and expect advances in medicine, technology and security when, time after time, you cut the higher education budget,” said Prof. Peretz Lavie, president of the Technion–Israel Institute of Technology and head of the Association of University Heads in Israel (VERA). “The slogan ‘start-up nation’ has a price – and it is a constant and persistent investment in higher education.”
Lavie said VERA would not allow the higher education system and students to be the “punching bag” of the Finance Ministry.
“If the planned cuts actually take place, it will call into question our ability to open the upcoming academic year,” he stated.
He said it was unacceptable that while other countries invested huge sums in higher education, Israel was sabotaging its most important strategic resource – “its human resources.”
Lavie slammed the government, which on the one hand speaks about putting an end to the brain drain, and on the other “pushes our excellent researchers and scientists out of the country.”
“The strength of the scientific, technological and cultural development of the country is a necessary and existential strategic asset, and it depends on the quality and the future of higher education,” he said.
The 2000 to 2009 academic years, which have come to be known as the “lost decade,” saw the government drastically cut the budget of the higher education system. This decision led to brain drain, in which leading scientists and scholars left Israel in search of better opportunities abroad, significantly harming research at Israeli institutions. The system is still recuperating from the effects.
The past several years have seen the implementation of a multi-year reform for higher education implemented by the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the CHE. Among its many goals, it aims to reverse the brain drain and recruit young scientists back to the Israeli higher education system.
Prof. Shlomo Grossman, head of the Committee of Public Academic College Heads and president of Ashkelon Academic College, echoed Lavie’s sentiments and said the news was “difficult and painful.” He placed the future of higher education in Israel in question.
“Budget cuts mean cuts in personnel and damage to academic research,” he said. “The cuts will strengthen brain drain across the sea and equally important, will harm the students.”
Gilad Erditi, chairman of the National Union of Israeli Students, said it was likely that the budget cuts “at the end of the day [would] roll over onto the students” by harming teaching innovations, the links between academia and the labor market, and equal opportunities.
Prof. Yaffa Zilbershats, chairwoman of the CHE’s Planning and Budgeting Committee, said the higher education system represented the basis of Israel’s ability to be “at the global forefront in medicine, science and technology, arts and humanities, economics and industry.”
She said the budget cuts would “directly harm the students, the ability to recruit quality faculty, and the building of research infrastructure.”
According to an OECD report titled “Education at a Glance 2015,” while Israel spends one of the highest percentages of its gross domestic product – some 6% in 2012 – on education, its expenditure per student is lower than the OECD average. In 2012, it spent $12,338 per student, compared to the OECD average of $15,028.