Academic exodus as scholars desert Israel's promised land for US

Policy 'breakdown' sees a quarter of academics head to America, study says. John Gill reports

February 28, 2008

Israeli universities are facing a brain drain on a scale that is "unparalleled in the Western world", a new report says.

The study, by Dan Ben-David of the department of public policy at Tel Aviv University, points to an "academic exodus" from Israel to the US and warns that the loss can be measured not just in quantity but in quality of scholars.

It says that 25 per cent of all Israeli academics are now working in the US and blames a "massive policy breakdown" in higher education for creating the problem.

"There is evidence of an academic exodus unparalleled in scope - not only in terms of the number of scholars who have left the country but also in terms of the quality that the country has lost," Dr Ben-David's report says.

"A double-digit share of Israel's top scholars currently reside on a full-time (non-visiting) basis in America's leading universities."

The report cites figures from an Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development study, which show that in 2003-04 there were 82,905 foreign academics at US universities, accounting for about 7 per cent of staff.

Britons formed the largest contingent, with 3,117 US-based academics representing 2.1 per cent of the UK's senior faculty, followed by the 12.2 per cent of Canadian academics who work south of the border. Both statistics, however, were dwarfed by the Israeli figures.

The report says: "The 1,409 Israeli academics residing in the States in 2003-04 represented 24.9 per cent of the entire senior staff in Israel's academic institutions that year - twice the Canadian ratio and over five times the ratio in the other developed countries."

It says that the number of Israelis working in US higher education is equal to one eighth of all Israel's chemists, 15 per cent of the country's philosophers, 29 per cent of its senior economists and a third of its computer scientists.

The report attributes emigration to a lack of suitable positions in Israeli higher education, low salaries, inadequate research funding and a preoccupation with limiting public spending at the expense of long-term strategic planning.

It adds: "It is ironic, to say the least, that a country with no natural resources, which has discovered the high-tech route to raising per-capita incomes, could have adopted policies that have led to such a predicament. When put into perspective, this loss becomes even less fathomable. A country with a gross domestic product of more than $200 billion (£102 billion) is unable to find the wherewithal to attract several hundred of its top minds to its research universities."


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