"Higher education decline jeopardizing Israel's future"

A Taub Center study finds that the brain drain from Israel's universities to the US has become a flood.

Israel's universities are by several measures in steep decline, according to a study by the The Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel . The proportion of senior faculty to students in the research universities has dropped significantly over the past four decades, and the brain drain of Israeli researchers to the US has become a flood. "A much wealthier Israel with much greater budgetary capacity than in the 1950s and 1960s has steadily neglected its world-class academic institutions and it has been increasingly jeopardizing its future that is so dependent on Israel remaining at the cutting edge," says the study's author, Taub Center Executive Director Prof Dan Ben-David. The study on the state of higher education in Israel will be published in the Taub Centers forthcoming State of the Nation Report 2013.

Israel established some of the worlds leading research universities during its first two and a half decades of existence despite being inundated during this period with refugees arriving with no more than the clothes on their backs, food rationing in the 1950s, repeated all-out wars and internal budgetary limitations," says Ben-David, "By the beginning of the 1970s, Israel had seven major research universities. The number of senior faculty members per capita shot up and reached levels similar to those in the United States.

Since the 1970s, the country is much wealthier and has significantly greater ability to develop its university system, but Israel dramatically changed course. Over the next four decades, the countrys universities steadily receded from the nations national priorities as is clearly evident from the data.

Between 1973 and 2010, Israels population increased by 133%, the student population in its research universities expanded by 157%, and the number of students in Israels entire higher education system (including colleges) rose by 428%.

The Taub Center study found that in that period the number of senior faculty in the research universities rose by just 9%, while the overall change in senior academic faculty in all of the colleges and universities rose by only 40%. The size of the academic faculty in Israels two flagship universities has actually declined over the past three and a half decades. There were 17% fewer faculty positions in 2010 at the Hebrew University than there were in 1973 and 26% fewer positions at Tel Aviv University. The Technion has lost over a quarter (26 percent) of the faculty positions that it had nearly four decades earlier.

Between 1977 and 2010, the number of students per senior faculty member more than doubled, from 12.6 students per professor to 26.1, but as Prof. Dan Ben-David notes, the situation is considerably worse than reflected in these numbers when it comes to the issue of relaying state-of-the-art findings to the next generation of researchers who are todays graduate students. The number of PhD students to professors rose from less than one student per faculty member to over two students per professor and the number of MA students to professors rose four-fold, from two to eight.

To fill the teaching void, the research universities essentially outsourced. The Taub Center study finds that the universities brought in external lecturers in rapidly increasing numbers to replace the tenured and tenure-track research faculty. In 1986, the external teachers represented 13% of the senior research faculty. By 2010, this ratio had risen to 46% i.e. almost half of the university lecturers today are not on the research faculty.

This low cost solution to the publics declining interest in funding research universities has had two important negative ramifications," says Prof. Ben-David, "The first is the declining quality of instruction that students are receiving from individuals not actively engaged in cutting-edge research. The second is that many of these individuals may have intended to proceed along the research route, but the increasing lack of tenure and tenure-track positions in Israels research universities relative to available graduates has caused many to either drop out of the research path or to find research positions abroad.

The Taub Center study also shows that the country is experiencing the greatest brain drain of its scholars to the United States by several orders of magnitude.

In 2003-2004, there were 25 Israeli scholars in the United States for every 100 members of the academic faculties in all of Israels universities and colleges. This compares with 1-4 scholars in the US for all other countries except Canada, with 12.

By 2007-2008, the latest data available, Prof. Ben-David finds that the brain drain had fallen from most countries to the US while Israeli academic brain drain to the United States had risen to 29 scholars out of every 100 in Israel.

Professor Dan Ben-David summarizes: Education is probably a countrys most important infrastructure, and Israel is still blessed with some of the worlds top academic institutions. These are key to lifting up the countrys extremely problematic primary and secondary education systems, and they are essential for raising Israels very low productivity levels that are so crucial for competing in a modern global economy. It is not too late to change direction, but that means that Israel needs to rethink its national priorities and return them to the path of its first decades the path that eventually enabled the country to become the start-up nation that Israel needs to remain if it is to survive in its very hostile neighborhood.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on October 8, 2013

Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2013

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