New Academic Excellence Centers Aim to Woo Expats

The cabinet is expected today to approve the creation of 30 academic excellence centers aimed at reintegrating leading scientists who have left Israel to conduct research abroad.

The centers will be established at a number of universities over the next five years. One third of funding the NIS 1.3 billion initiative will come from the state and the remainder from academic institutions and private donations from abroad.

A pilot program of five excellence centers will begin during the upcoming academic year. Sources close to the Council for Higher Education said the first centers to open would focus on economics and computer science, two areas in which Israeli scientists have made particularly important contributions to international research.

In addition to the initial five excellence centers to be established, the fields of study for the other 25 will be determined later in conjunction with university representatives.

The program was put together by Prof. Manuel Trajtenberg, chairman of the council's Planning and Budget Committee, as part of a five-year development plan. Over the upcoming weeks the committee will define the areas of research in which to establish excellence centers. While the facilities will only operate on university campuses, faculty members affiliated with colleges will also be eligible to conduct research in them.

The choice of which universities will host the centers will be based on criteria including research capabilities in the fields in question, as well their ability to devote resources to the centers and to operate international advanced-degree programs taught in English.

The universities will also be asked to present a detailed list of Israeli researchers teaching abroad who could potentially be drawn back to the country to teach at one of the centers.

The new program was recently presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "This is a shot in the arm to the higher education system," Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar said.

Trajtenberg said: "We didn't want to just stem a leak, but to propose a plan that could raise the bar of scientific research and at the same time bring back Israeli scientists - not individually but collectively - to be integrated at these centers and consequently t universities.

"If we can bring 300 Israeli scientists to the centers, this will be considered a great success," Trajtenberg said, noting that between 1,000 and 3,000 Israeli researchers currently live abroad.