Israel's brain drain to US the worst in the West
Study finds nearly 1 in 4 Israeli scholars prefers to work in American universities
Israel prides itself on its high international rankings for innovation, but if things continue as they are, it may not have much to boast of in the future. A study published Tuesday by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies revealed that Nobel prizes notwithstanding, the country's higher education facilities are suffering, with nearly one in four scholars preferring to US universities over local ones.
The Taub Center study found that Israel’s top universities have fewer senior faculty positions today than they did four decades ago, resulting in a nearly double student to teacher ratio and that for every 100 Israeli scholars in Israel, 29 have left to work in the US.
According to the study, the number of senior faculty in the research universities rose by just nine percent over the last 40 years, while the overall change in senior academic faculty in all of the colleges and universities rose by only 40 percent. Israel's total population has doubled over the same time period and the number of students seeking higher education has more than quadrupled.
The size of the academic faculty in Israel’s two flagship universities has actually declined over the past three and a half decades, the study reveals. There were 17 percent fewer faculty positions in 2010 at the Hebrew University than there were in 1973 – and 26 percent fewer positions at Tel Aviv University. The Technion has lost over a quarter (26%) of the faculty positions that it had nearly four decades earlier.
Between 1977 and 2010, the study found, the number of students per senior faculty member more than doubled, from 12.6 students per professor to 26.1. Taub Center director Professor Dan Ben-David stressed however that, “the situation is considerably worse than reflected in these numbers when it comes to the issue of relaying state-of-the-art findings to the next generation of researchers – who are today’s graduate students.” The number of PhD students to professors rose from less than one student per faculty member to over two students per professor and the number of MA students to professors rose four-fold, from two to eight.
The study revealed deep-seated problems when it comes to guaranteeing long-term employment for its graduates, replacing tenured lecturers with external ones.
"In 1986, the external teachers represented 13 percent of the senior research faculty. By 2010, this ratio had risen to 46 percent – i.e. almost half of the university lecturers today are not on the research faculty," the study said.
“This low cost solution to the public’s declining interest in funding research universities has had two important negative ramifications. The first is the declining quality of instruction that students are receiving from individuals not actively engaged in cutting-edge research. The second is that many of these individuals may have intended to proceed along the research route, but the increasing lack of tenure and tenure-track positions in Israel’s research universities – relative to available graduates – has caused many to either drop out of the research path or to find research positions abroad.”
Perhaps the most astounding statistic the study revealed is the high number of Israeli scholars who choose to work abroad, most notably at US universities.
In 2003-2004, there were 25 Israeli scholars in the United States for every 100 members of the academic faculties in all of Israel’s universities and colleges. By 2007-2008, the latest data available, Ben-David found the Israeli academic brain drain to the United States had risen to 29 scholars out of every 100 in Israel. This is several orders of magnitude more than the 1.1 Japanese or the 3.4 French scholars for each 100 remaining in their respective home countries.
For most other countries, France excepted, the trend is reversed with the percentage of scholars choosing to work in the US in decline.
Ben David explained that while in Israel, researchers have to struggle to gain grants and tenure positions, nearly all those who go to the US are either tenured or on track for tenure. "These are some of the best people we have, not those we can afford to lose," he said.
Ben David noted that Israelis were also leaving for universities in Europe, albeit on a much smaller scale.
“Over the past four decades, a much wealthier Israel with much greater budgetary capacity than in the 1950s and 1960s has steadily neglected its world-class academic institutions – and it has been increasingly jeopardizing its future that is so dependent on Israel remaining at the cutting edge," said Ben David. "It is not too late to change direction, but that means that Israel needs to rethink its national priorities and return them to the path of its first decades – the path that eventually enabled the country to become the 'start-up nation' that Israel needs to remain if it is to survive in its very hostile neighborhood.”