A national plan aimed at curbing the brain drain problem afflicting Israel and attracting expatriates from the academic world back to the country was approved by the government on Sunday.
The initiative will cost about NIS 450 million (roughly $120 million) and be implemented over the course of five years. As part of the plan, and starting as early as next year, Israeli universities will be establishing "academic distinction centers" in various fields in a bid to draw young scientists and researches back to Israel.
A total of 30 such centers are expected to be set up eventually.
The new program will also see a structural revolution that would adapt academic programs to the custom in the United States. As part of this plan, Master's and Doctoral degrees will be combined into one program.
"We are not synchronized with the American system, and this is going to change," said Manuel Trachtenberg, who heads the Council of Higher Education's planning and budget committee.
Also as part of the plan, a foundation with a budget of one billion shekels (roughly $280 million) will be set up in the aims of establishing start-up, research, and development companies in the field of biotechnology, also in a bid to draw expatriates back to Israel.
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz said the plan is a proper Zionist response to the brain drain problem.
"It will bring back hundreds and possibly thousands of professors and doctors to Israel, stimulate our industries, and improve our academia, which suffers from stagnation, while making it younger," he said.
The minister said the program is a result of a meeting he held with about 200 senior Israeli academicians from Yale and MIT about two months ago. The expatriates complained that they would like to return to Israel but have nowhere to come back to.
The government has announced various plans aimed at bringing back scientists in the past; the latest initiative aims to see at least 300 scientists returning to Israel. The government will be investing a total of about NIS 500 million in the plan, with the universities and overseas donors contributing as much as another billion shekels.
Notably, as opposed to previous plans aimed at returning individual researchers, the new plan seeks to bring back groups of scientists.
"We face terrible competition against the world, and if we wish to win in the global arena, we need to close the gaps," Trachtenberg said. "We need to bring scientists back from abroad en masse."
Yaheli Moran Zelikovich contributed to the story