Text size

The awarding of the Nobel Prize in chemistry to Prof. Dan Shechtman - the sixth Israeli in a decade to win the Nobel for scientific research - is a moment of national exaltation. Two researchers have won the prize in economics and four in chemistry, two fields of academic research in which Israel now looks like a world power.

Nevertheless, the celebrations are diluted by concern that these prizes are the fruits of past greatness, of the years when Israel's educational system was an outstanding one that produced renowned scholars and leading scientists. The past two decades have seen a deterioration in our education system: Israel now ranks 40th in the world on international achievement tests, and it is suffering a serious brain drain as brilliant scientists abandon local academe for better-funded research institutes abroad.

There are grounds for believing that this decline in educational achievement was one of the driving forces behind the summer's social protests. While education here is ostensibly free, it is of poor quality, and the public is no longer willing to accept such poor service from its government.

Fortunately, Israel's embarrassing international showing has spurred the government to act. The past four years have seen an incredible burst of activity in the realm of education: the New Horizons reform in the primary schools, the Oz Latmura ("Power to Change" ) reform in the high schools, and a reform of the higher education system that started last year.

Higher education has been given a budgetary boost of NIS 7.5 billion spread over five years. By 2016, the universities' annual budgets will have grown by NIS 2 billion and they will have another 2,000 faculty members. There has also been a change in the way universities are funded: They will now receive incentives to encourage outstanding researchers, and 40 "centers of excellence" will be established, whose aim is to lure back some of the outstanding scientists who have moved abroad.

The reform of higher education is meant to give a much-needed boost to academic research in Israel, after years of eroding budgets and brain drain. It's too early to tell, of course, if these various reforms will be enough to restore Israeli research to its former glory. But at least there is reason to hope that the phenomenon of Israeli Nobel Prize winners will not become a thing of the past.