Seeking Better Conditions, Israelis Sprout Like Mushrooms in U.S. Academe

The call for lifting restrictions on the level of wages in universities is becoming increasingly louder among those concerned about the phenomenon of Israeli scientists leaving the country because of more attractive opportunities. The latest VIP to join this chorus was Nobel Prize laureate Professor Yisrael Aumann at the Sderot Conference last week.

However, conversations with Israeli researchers who have gone abroad indicate wages were not the decisive factor in their choice.

Research infrastructure and conditions, as well as an absence of a community of researchers in their field, dominated their list of reasons, as did the sense of being isolated in the periphery of study, a situation that is exasperated by the limited numbers of researchers who come to conferences here or participate in research in Israel.

Some also point to non-academic issues, such as quality of life and distancing themselves from the wars and the tension that accompany's life in Israel.

The immigration of researchers begins when they go abroad, usually to the U.S., for their Ph.D. studies or for a post-doctorate. A period of research abroad is a desirable stage for anyone building a resume for entering Israel's academe, while in the natural sciences it is nearly mandatory.

This is what Uri Hefetz did. Seven years ago he traveled to Princeton University for a Ph.D. in economics, and he then received "an offer that cannot be refused" from another elite university, Cornell.

"For a young researcher, like myself, who is making his first steps in the world of the academe, there is a huge advantage in being close to where the community is based. When I am at Cornell, I have access to all the important conferences, most of which take place in the U.S., most of those working in the field are in the area, some at Cornell itself. Science is basically a community that communicates and does things together. In Israel you are far removed from this."

In the current global market, the migration of scientists is not a phenomenon unique to Israel. American universities draw researchers from all the world as a result of their enormous economic power. Could it be that the warnings of "brain drain" are excessive?

According to data analyzed by the economist Dan Ben-David, who supports a free market approach to the wages question for academics, the answer is no. He says that the number of Israelis in American faculties is higher than that of any other country.

On average, according to Dr. Ben-David, there are 23 Israeli lecturers in the U.S. per 100,000 residents in Israel. This is four to six times higher than any other advanced country.

Some researchers in the natural sciences who recently returned to Israel say that in the U.S. their wages were 1.5-2 times higher than those in Israel. In economics and management, the wages of researchers in the U.S. is particularly high. In the elite universities the salary of management lecturers could be as high as $100,000 per year, while initial salaries for economists can reach $180,000 per year, although salaries in state universities are lower.

In Israel a lecturer earns NIS 12,000 per month.

There are differences in the emphasis that young Israeli researchers seeking to return to Israel place on wages. According to deans and senior administrative officials at universities, wages are of greater importance to those specializing in management and economics.

Dr. Danit Ein-Ger, who began teaching at the School of Management of Tel Aviv University this year, says that "wages are a very important element," even though for her it was not the primary consideration for returning.

She says that the American academe is attractive because it offers the necessary conditions for a young researcher who is in a race to establish an academic career.

"In order to succeed in a career a great deal of networking is necessary, which mean participating in conferences, meeting with people in the field and giving lectures at all sorts of universities," she said.

"Many people say, first we will establish ourselves a little, and then they get used to things and they stay," Ein-Ger added.