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The state has come up with a new idea to diminish the "brain drain." To keep its best and brightest academics from moving overseas, or to bring them back home, they need jobs, for which purpose the state proposes to establish a new fund.

The fund, to be managed by the Council for Higher Education, will invest in "centers of research excellence" that provide positions for repatriated scientists and engineers.

The Higher Education Council presented the plan to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, in coordination with the Finance Ministry and the National Economic Council. Netanyahu is expected to approve the plan.

The plan, called the "Stars Plan," calls for the establishment of 30 research centers at a cost of NIS 45 million apiece, bringing the total cost to NIS 1.3 billion. The council's Planning and Budgeting Committee, headed by prime ministerial adviser Manuel Trajtenberg, will be responsible for implementing the plan.

Most of the money will come directly from the state, with the universities supplementing the funds. The universities, individually or in groups, will bid on the tenders for establishing the centers.

The money will go to paying the scientists' salaries. Since the centers will be independent of the regular university framework, the normal regulations on university salary limitations will not apply.

The centers will focus on areas in which Israel can excel, and the universities will be committed to only recruiting outstanding scientists. Some centers will require cooperation between a number of universties, which will also help increase research cooperaton between Israeli universities, another goal of the program.

In some cases, the centers will try to attract entire teams of scientists, not just individuals, which should improve the chances of successfully absorbing the returnees.