Immigration Ministry scraps plan to lure scientists back to Israel
"What we need is a kind of a vacuum cleaner, to suck back all those Israeli brains from foreign universities," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week. One detailed plan proposed by the Immigrant Absorption Ministry was recently shot down by the Finance Ministry, citing financial concerns, amidst competing proposals to save Israeli academia.
"We've heard plenty of statements but I've yet to see a cabinet resolution to bring back the scientists," said Omri Ingbar, coordinator of the interministerial committee for absorption in science. "The brain drain problem is rooted in the lack of employment opportunities. The cabinet must spearhead a move to create new jobs, but it's trying to avoid the responsibility. The treasury wants solutions that don't cost money," said Ingbar, who heads the returning scientists unit in the Immigrant Absorption Ministry.
The chairman of the Council of Higher Education's planning and budget committee, Prof. Manuel Trachtenberg, yesterday showed the Knesset Education Committee figures indicating a rise in the numbers of scientists immigrating from Europe to the United States.
"Israel's higher education system is fading," Trachtenberg said, listing "brain drain, a rise in the average ages of faculty members, an increase in student:teacher ratios and a decline in the prestige of higher education" as factors.
According to Trachtenberg's data, around 1,400 Israeli scholars work in the United States. That number, equivalent to 25 percent of all academic researchers in Israel, is enough to staff two entire universities.
Ingbar said the interministerial committee, which concluded its work in August, proposed creating 500 senior faculty positions in universities and 200 such positions in private colleges, at an annual cost of NIS 800 million a year for seven years. The Finance Ministry decried the cost, and the proposal was shelved without being presented to the cabinet.
"It's easy to ask for billions of shekels to bring back scientists, but you need to look at cost-effectiveness," a source at the Finance Ministry said.
The Council for Higher Education, meanwhile, presented its own plan of its own, calling for the establishment of competitive academic centers, financed by Jewish donors from abroad. Netanyahu has already voiced his support for the scheme. "We're a small country, but we've got big pockets of Jewish money abroad, and we've got the Jewish mind," Netanyahu said.
"They say Jews are loaded with money and the money needs to be mined to bring back the academics," Ingbar said. "Instead of looking for creative solutions, we're back to begging."
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