Israel Has Worst Rate of Brain Drain in West, Study Shows

For every 100 faculty members at Israeli universities living in Israel in 2008, 29 were working at American universities.

Israel’s higher education system is deteriorating and well-educated Israelis are fleeing abroad, according to a report recently published by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel.

The emigration rate of Israeli researchers is now the highest among Western countries, according to the study.

It said that over the past 40 years, nationwide expenditure per student has plummeted, along with the number of senior faculty members at Israeli universities. The universities have, in turn, employed an increasing amount of adjunct lecturers and junior faculty members.

For every 100 faculty members at Israeli universities living in Israel in 2008, 29 were working at American universities. That was an increase over the figures just four years earlier, when there were 25 Israeli academics working in the United States for every 100 in Israel.

“After establishing several world-leading research universities, Israel underwent a dramatic about-face,” wrote the Taub Center executive director, economist Dan Ben-David, in the report. “Over the course of the last four decades, the place of research universities has consistently fallen lower down the priority scale.”

Most researchers who leave Israel move to the United States, according to the report.

The prevalent view in academia is that the situation in the universities began deteriorating between 2002 and 2010 (in what is called "the lost decade"), during which the funds earmarked for higher education declined while the number of students grew. However, Ben-David argues that the "lost decade" was really four decades long.

"The higher education system had already dropped down on the government's list of priorities at the end of the 1970s," writes Ben-David.

According to the report, in 1973 there were 131 senior faculty members for every 100,000 Israelis. By 2011 the ratio had declined by 53%, to 62 senior faculty members.

During the same period, the number of students pursuing higher education increased more than 400%, while the number of teaching staff at colleges and universities rose just 40%.

At two of Israel's top universities, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University, the number of faculty members today is less than it was four decades ago, having dropped 17% and 26%, respectively.

Despite the rise in the standard of living, public expenditure for higher education has dropped from NIS 82,400 per student in 1979 to NIS 26,500 per student in 2011.

In the past three years, the planning and budgeting committee of the government’s Council for Higher Education has increased funding for the universities. In addition, a committee aimed at finding ways to keep Israeli researchers in the country has increased the number of senior faculty positions open at universities and found a way for a small number of top faculty members to receive salaries and research grants that are higher than the norm in the country.

But Ben-David questioned why these changes are so limited, rather than becoming “a fundamental component in a comprehensive reform of the university system in Israel."

Eliyahu Herschowitz
Oded Hirsch