Sever Plocker

Israel, invest in brain power

Op-ed: Government must invest more in universities, the key to Israel’s existence

In the past decade, five Israeli scientists won the Nobel Prize. This is an incomprehensible achievement that can certainly be characterized as “Israel’s finest hour.” The global media are writing about us with enthusiasm and even the British Guardian, which is not an Israel fan usually, covered the granting of the prize to Professor Dan Shechtman in a special blog updated every few minutes.


This is also an opportunity to openly say the following: Brain power is the secret of the State of Israel’s existence. If we fail to be at the top of global science, we won’t be a state that is permised on strong pillars. Many years ago, David Ben-Gurion was asked about the solution to us being few against many and replied: The people’s army. However, Ben-Gurion was wrong. The right answer is “the people’s science.”


Thanks to science we have an army that possesses technological capabilities which deter every enemy and high-technology exports that bring $25 billion into the State’s coffers every year. Without science we would be a poor country.


Thanks to science, all of us enjoy a very high standard of living – on this front we’re ranked 20th in the world. Hundreds of thousands of Israelis can afford flights abroad, cars, and better homes thanks to the scientific infrastructure built here 20-30 years ago.


With science being Israel’s most important and vital asset (that is, life sciences, the humanities, exact sciences and the social sciences), we can assert that higher education budget cuts in the years 2003-2010 constituted a national crime. Someone should pay the price for it.


Only this year, for the first time in a decade, research universities are being granted some kind of budget supplement and are extracting themselves a little from the splint of lacking budgets, insufficient posts, the absence of libraries and labs, and the brain drain of young scientists.


Waiting for revolution

However, the addition is still too small. It won’t make up for the dry years and won’t restore that which had been destroyed. It can only prevent further damage. Indeed, that’s something too, and we should be grateful to Professor Manuel Trajtenberg and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz. Yet this is certainly not enough to maintain the assembly line of Nobel Prize laureates or to restore the glory of Israeli academia.


Professor Trajtenberg recently also headed a committee on social change. The committee recommended taking away some NIS 3 billion (roughly $800 million) from the defense budget and special reserves in the civilian budget and earmarking it to young families with children aged 0-9. I propose that the finance minister submit an amended plan to the government Sunday. A scheme that Trajtenberg would surely support as well: Earmarking another half a billion shekels a year to research universities starting this school year.


This would be the proper Zionist response to the Nobel Prize. Where shall we get the money? From every source, even by raising our budget deficit. The rate between our deficit and production will rise by 0.15% per year. Nobody will be criticizing us for this investment.


It appears that primary school reforms led by two education ministers, Professor Yuli Tamir and Gideon Sa’ar, in the face of great criticism and against all odds are already bearing fruit. I’m certain that the high school reform will also be successful. The process of change and improvement there is gradual, substantive and promising.


Our universities, on the other hand, have not yet undergone a revolution. They are not yet out of the danger zone and are still engaged in healing the wounds. And that’s very bad for the State of Israel.


The president and prime minister congratulated Nobel Peace Laureate Professor Dan Shechtman Wednesday. Their words are nice, yet without the further designation of public funds to research universities, the well-wishes are an empty gesture.



פרסום ראשון: 10.06.11, 18:51
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