A national plan aimed at curbing the brain drain problem was launched on Monday in the United States. The plan's aim is to attract hundreds of expatriates from the academic world back to Israel.
"I want to give back to society and the economy, but I don't have a place to do this," said one of those who signed up for the program. The Central Bureau of Statistics revealed six months ago that about 14% of Israelis with PhDs in exact sciences and engineering have been out of Israel for over three years.
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"Our primary goal is to bring back 1,250 Israeli academics, but mostly change what needs to be changed," said Dr. Nurit Eyal, the program director. "Today, for instance, biologists have nowhere to go back to. If there would not be someone to investigate why the State of Israel qualifies so many biologists without allowing them to find a job here, we will keep spending heavily on training people the country does not need. Our goal is to collect data, investigate and change this balance."
The government approved the perennial plan in 2010 that includes the involvement of the Economy Ministry Chief Scientist, the Council for Higher Education, the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and the Finance Ministry. The program is budgeted at 20 million NIS ($5.5 million) and aims to bring back thousands of academics to Israel within five years.
Within the program's framework, a database was set up with job offers and contact centers that include available posts at universities and colleges. "We have the ability to coordinate between supply and demand. We transfer resumes to relevant companies until a job that matches the skills of the academic is found," said Dr. Avi Hasson, chief scientist at the Economy Ministry.
Studying, working abroad. Oxford University (Photo: Shutterstock)
Apart from finding a job, the government explains, the program provides personal support for returning academics and their families. "It means lending a hand in the bureaucracy jungle that comes about upon the return to Israel. We want to make sure they don't give up after six months and leave."
In addition, a database that includes the details of academics living abroad and interested in returning to Israel was set up. "Today we do not know who is abroad and how to reach those academics. Therefore we call on academics living around the world that want to come back to sign up for the program."
So far, 2,498 academics have signed up for the program. According to statistics, some 74% of them live in the US, and the rest in Canada, England, Australia, Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Japan and Belgium. About 41% of them have master's degrees, 35% have doctorates, and 2% carry a degree in medicine. The figures also reveal that about 40% of the academics living abroad today are engaged in ICT and computer science, and about 25% engage in social sciences.
Eyal and Hasson explain that this is the first time a governmental program is entirely dedicated to the brain drain crisis. "There have been many specific projects that focused mainly on bringing people back to the academic world, but in practice not much happened," they say, "there has never been a program that combines all of these government offices that take the responsibility for such an important task."
'I have all this knowledge and nowhere to use it'
Amos Gdalyahu is a doctoral student in molecular genetics and neurobiology at the Weizmann Institute of Science, and has been living in Los Angeles for over seven years. "As part of my academic training, I finished my postdoctoral studies at a university abroad. Since I got there my goal has been to reach important findings and publish them in prestigious places, and indeed my studies have been published in the most important journal in the neurobiology field and I received scientific recognition by well-known people in the field," he said.
After achieving his goals, Gdalyahu decided he wanted to come home and find a job in local industry or academia, but his two-year efforts have not been successful. "There's nowhere to come back to employment-wise. I want to contribute to the society and the economy, but I don't have where. It is a very frustrating feeling that after so many years of training you cannot contribute from the great knowledge you have acquired."
Gdalyahu recently heard of the national program to bring back academics and signed up for it. "It appears they have very good intentions and I hope it works. Every year some 300 people in Israel get a doctorate in biology, yet the biotechnology industry includes only 800 positions. This program is positive because the problem must be mapped out, the figures understood and the system changed."
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