In Effort to Halt Brain Drain

Israeli Universities to Offer Star Academics Higher Salaries

The move is intended to allow local universities to make more attractive offers to Israeli academics who now work abroad, primarily in American universities.

This upcoming academic year is set to be the first in which some university faculty will be employed under individual contracts and not collective agreements. This dramatic change in labor relations at Israeli universities will also enable university administrators to add up to 30% to senior faculty members’ salaries. The move is intended to allow local universities to make more attractive offers to star Israeli academics who now work abroad, primarily in American universities. Today, in certain research fields, salaries at American universities are twice as high as they are in Israel and sometimes even more.

Over the past two decades Israeli universities' budgets have declined leading to a shortage in new positions for lecturers. A large number of Israel PhD students and rising faculty subsequently found positions at universities abroad. The salaries earned by academics in most research disciplines in the United States is not significantly different from those offered in Israel, but it is hard to retain star lecturers in fields like economics, business administration, computers sciences and engineering, where there is a sizable difference in salaries in the U.S. based on perceived talent.

In a letter sent to university presidents, CHE chairman Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg explained the underlying reason for allowing individual contracts was to assist in recruiting and preventing the brain drain among “faculty that are experts in their field (“stars”) for whom there is strong competition with the best universities abroad to hire them.”

The new plan will see the salaries of 1% of full university professors reach as high as NIS 67,000 per month if they agree to work with a personal contract. Based upon a decision by the planning and budgeting committee of the Council for Higher Education, up to 5% of senior faculty members at any university can choose to switch to new, individual contracts. However, any increase in their salary will be gradually phased in over a four-year period following their signing a contract. University administration officials will also be able to choose another two groups within which 2% of senior faculty in each group will receive raises of between 10% and 20%. For full university professors this means salaries as high as NIS 51,000 per month. For lower ranked associate professors the maximum salary under this new arrangement will be NIS 35,400 per month. Senior lecturers, who are not professors, will be able to receive salaries as high as NIS 29,400 per month. While other lecturers, those on the bottom of the totem pole, will be able to receive a maximum salary of NIS 25,100 per month, should they receive the salary bonus with an individual contract.

However, the senior faculty organizations at Israel's seven research universities responded to the announcement by threatening to declare a work dispute and going on strike in October at the start of the new academic year. The organizations called the new move an attempt to destroy organized labor in the universities and “crossing a red line.”

For years the CHE has been discussing the use of differential salaries for lecturers as a means off reducing Israel's brain drain, but implementation was delayed due to the fear of opposition from senior faculty. In 2010, the Israeli government set a goal for enticing Israeli scientists abroad to return to Israel. Two years ago, Israel's publicly run colleges were allowed to begin employing some lecturers on individual contracts with the agreement of the senior faculty organization.

As part of the new plan, the universities will have to set their own criteria for employing academics on individual contracts that must be approved by the CHE. They must also report every year to the CHE the salary paid to employees working under these contracts.

Eliyahu Hershkovitz