Many of Israel’s best brains are leaving the country and aren’t in any rush to return.
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A report released on Tuesday by the Central Bureau of Statistics found that in 2011 more than 14% of all Israelis holding doctorates in science or engineering have been living abroad for three years or more for purposes of work or study.
Among Israelis with Ph.Ds in the humanities or social sciences, the rate is a much lower 3.8%, but overall the rate for all Israelis with doctorates is 10.5%.
About 5% of all Israelis who received a degree from an institute of higher education during the years 1985 to 2005 − a total of 18,025 out of 360,500 people − have been living overseas for three or more years, according to the CBS report, which was prepared for the Science and Technology Ministry’s National Council for Research and Development.
The figures confirm a long-recognized phenomenon of Israeli brain drain of scientists and engineers even as the country boasts world-leading universities and an outsized high technology industry. The CBS report, however, extends the scope of the problem to include people who aren’t directly engaged in research or teaching.
The CBS also cautioned that its definition of an extended period abroad as three years or more doesn’t necessarily mean that those living overseas have no plans to come back. However, when it surveyed graduates in 2010 who had been abroad for three or more years, it found a year later than fewer than 7% had returned to Israel.
Among Ph.Ds, the rate of return was a much lower 4.1%, the CBS found.
In recent years, Israel has undertaken programs through the Higher Education Council, the National Science Academy and the Science Ministry, aimed at luring back Israeli researchers. That work has been complemented by reforms in Israeli higher education aimed at creating better, more flexible and higher paying jobs.
The program has attracted some 300 new researchers to the universities, two thirds of them returning Israelis. Nevertheless, university officials and others say the numbers are still far too small to reverse the brain drain.
“The government of Israel is taking several steps to encourage Israeli graduates to return home, such as with centers of excellence, which are now being set up, and a special program being run by the Ministries of Absorption and Science, which is already being implemented,” said Science Minister Daniel Hershkowitz in response to the data.
“I believe, therefore, that in the coming years we’ll begin seeing a decline in the rate of Israeli graduates who spend extensive periods abroad,” he said.
Menachem Ben-Sasson, president of the Hebrew University and chairman of the Universities Council, said Israel had to give top priority to investing in education and in young researchers.Among Israelis holding bachelor’s degrees, 4.8% are living abroad, while among those with master degrees the rate is 4.2%. But those with science and engineering degrees are far more likely to be abroad than those who studied the humanities or social sciences, the CBS found.
Among humanities and social science graduates holding bachelor’s and/or master’s degrees, the proportion living abroad was 4% and 3.1%, respectively. But in science and engineering, 6.7% of all those holding bachelor’s degrees were living overseas as were 8.5% of those with master’s degrees.
People who received their degrees in 2003 to 2005 are less likely to be living outside of Israel (2.5 % of all degree holders) than those who received their diplomas in the 1980s (8.1%). But among those who received doctorates at the end of the 1990s, 17.7% were living abroad.
Among those with advanced degrees in medicine, 7.2% were residing abroad as of 2011 for three or more years.
Israelis with master’s degrees in mathematics were the most likely to have picked up for foreign shores, with 16.7% abroad.