Fatal flaws in the Start-Up Nation

October 8, 2013
Sarah Benton

Reports from Ha’aretz and Times of Israel, bringing out different points.

Hebrew University, Jerusalem – number of faculty members now one sixth lower than it was 40 years ago despite large increase in students.

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. – compared to four years ago, when there were 25 Israeli academics working in the United States for every 100 in Israel.

By Lior Dattel, Ha’aretz
October 08, 2013
Photo by Eliyahu Herschowitz

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.”

Study shows ‘further deterioration’ of Israeli universities

Despite becoming wealthier, nation is not investing in higher education as top priority, researcher says

By Spencer Ho, Times of Israel
October 08, 2013

Israel’s universities are continuing to deteriorate and are not investing in reversing that trend, according to a new study released by an Israeli research institute Monday, just a week before Israeli universities begin the new academic year.

“Over the past four decades, 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,” Prof. Dan Ben-David, executive director of the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel, said in a statement.

“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.”

The study, which is part of the Taub Center’s forthcoming “State of the Nation Report 2013,” is an update of Ben-David’s previous research on the subject in 2008.

Some key statistics indicating the decline of the universities include a drop in senior faculty positions at top universities, an increase in the ratio of students to professors and the number of Israeli professors working in the US rather than in Israel.

The actual situation is actually more damning than the numbers show, according to Ben-David.

“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 today’s graduate students,” he said.

In perhaps the most disturbing trend revealed in the study, Israeli universities seem to be choosing to save money by outsourcing rather than investing in quality, long-term educators. In 1986, 13 percent of the senior research faculty was made up of external teachers, but by 2010 that number had risen to 46%, according to the study.

“This low cost solution to the public’s declining interest in funding research universities has had two important negative ramifications,” Ben-David said. “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 Israel’s research universities – relative to available graduates – has caused many to either drop out of the research path or to find research positions abroad.”

The study showed that since 1977, Israel’s population increased by 133%, its student population at research universities by 157% and its overall higher education population by 428%. However, the number of senior faculty had only risen by 9% in research universities and only 40% in all colleges and universities. The ratio of students to senior faculty more than doubled from 12.6:1 to 26.1:1 between 1977 and 2010.

At the nation’s top universities, the numbers painted an even bleaker picture. Hebrew University experienced a 17% drop in faculty positions from 1973 to 2010, and Tel Aviv and the Technion (Haifa) have 26% fewer positions.

One cause for these drops is the migration of Israeli academics to the US, according to the study.

“Israel’s academic brain drain to the United States is unparalleled, with 29 Israeli scholars in the US for every 100 remaining at home in 2008 (the most recent data available), an increase from the 25 per 100 in the US just four years earlier,” the study states. “This is several orders of magnitude more than the 1.1 Japanese or the 3.4 French scholars for each 100 remaining in their respective home countries.”

Notes and links
Policy Paper No. 2012.04

“In a nutshell, this is the iceberg: a very large proportion – a proportion that is steadily increasing – of Israel’s population is not receiving either the tools or the conditions to work in a modern economy. As a result, the country has extraordinarily high rates of poverty and income inequality compared to other Western countries, and compared to itself in the past.

“In addition, there is a shrinking share of the population that is capable of assimilating new technologies and ideas and developing them further. Such a capability is a necessary condition for the productivity increases essential for expanding economic growth and moving Israel onto a new long-run growth trajectory that would reduce the differences in living standards between it and the leading economies.”
Income Inequality in Israel
Policy Paper No. 2011.05

Author: Ayal Kimhi,
Policy Program Paper
2 Oct 2011

“Israel is one of the least equal countries in the Western world. Part of the responsibility for this lies with the government’s welfare policy, but most existing income inequalities stem from disparities in employment, work hours and wages. Wage gaps in Israel are higher than in any other developed country and are particularly evident where worker educational levels differ. Over the past decade the average Israeli worker’s educational level has risen greatly while at the same time, demand for educated workers has grown even faster, leading to the continued widening of wage gaps. Policies aimed at narrowing socioeconomic disparities in Israel should, in the short term, promote employment and provide income support to low-wage earners. In order to succeed in the long term, though, policies should upgrade the skills of the future generations of workers, and minimize the skill gaps. For this to happen, it is not enough to increase the number of years of schooling, the percentage of those eligible for matriculation certificates, or the percentage of those with academic degrees. It is also necessary to upgrade the curricula and the level of training provided by educational institutions.”

This appears as a chapter in the Center’s annual publication State of the Nation Report – Society, Economy and Policy 2010.

© Copyright JFJFP 2017