Israeli Academia The Dark Side

What can one expect when high personal caliber is merged with a domestic managerial setting devoid of the tools necessary for dealing with foreign talent-poaching of Israelis?

Dan Ben David
Dan Ben-David
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Dan Ben David
Dan Ben-David

First-class universities are first and foremost the professional homes of leading researchers and scientists, individuals who bring honor - not to mention added scientific, economic and cultural value - also to institutions that are not Israeli. Therefore, what can one expect when high personal caliber is merged with a domestic managerial setting devoid of the tools necessary for dealing with foreign talent-poaching of Israelis?

The actual picture is grimmer still, since not only are foreigners hunting for young Israeli talent but we are also giving that talent the boot with our own feet. As indicated in the diagram, we have reached a situation in which the number of Israeli academics in the U.S. represents one-fourth of the entire senior faculty remaining in Israeli's universities and colleges. It is no coincidence that the share of senior Israeli faculty in the States is six times the share of academic emigrants from the leading European country. It is also no coincidence that the share of Israeli scholars holding full-time positions in the top 40 American departments in fields like chemistry, physics, philosophy, economics and computer science is unparalleled.

Academic salaries in Israel have consistently declined in relation to academic salaries abroad as well as salaries in relevant private sectors within Israel. So why should it be surprising that a large number of our most gifted individuals are looking for the door, or choosing not to even enter academic life altogether? As if salary gaps were not enough, we are also witnessing increasing gaps between Israel and other countries in the funding of basic research, which in turn not only harms domestic research but also impairs the possibilities for personal promotions in the future.

Another domestic kick in the pants comes from a steady decline of roughly 50% in the per capita number of positions in research universities. An entire generation was left outside, even those wishing to return despite the large gaps in salaries and research funds. External micromanagement that is blind to long-run considerations has imposed destructive constraints on the universities that are reflected in (among other things) the failure to provide regular full-time positions for new graduates, forcing them to work as adjunct faculty members with disgracefully low wages, scandalously poor social benefits and non-existent research conditions - which then guarantee that these individuals will be pushed farther and farther behind the research frontier and their academic fate will be sealed.

Israeli universities - which enabled the country to reap the benefits of the high tech revolution when it erupted and made it possible for us to maintain an existential qualitative advantage in the realms of industry and defense - are products of the investments made by our founders' generation. But the much wealthier subsequent generation diametrically changed Israel's national priorities and reallocated its resources, exchanging the national perspective with sectoral and personal ones, replacing strategic planning with blind faith, swapping common sense with obsolete ideologies - and supplanting the great hopes that our generation was raised on with the black hole that we may bequeath to our children's generation if we don't get our act together in time.

The author teaches economics in the Department of Public Policy at Tel-Aviv University.

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