Hershkowitz on Nobel Prize Win and ‘Brain Drain’

University head and former Science Minister talks about fighting ‘brain drain,’ but warns: Israel can’t compete with USA.

Maayana Miskin ,

Israeli medical researcher (illustrative)
Israeli medical researcher (illustrative)
Israel news photo: Flash 90

The Nobel Prize victory of two Israeli-American professors, along with an Austrian Jewish professor, has raised the issue of “brain drain” among Israeli scientists. One of the winners, Michael Levitt, has revealed that he left Israel in the 1980s because the Weizmann Institute did not have the funds to support his research.

“Brain drain” is a serious issue, particularly in the sciences, Professor Daniel Hershkowitz said Thursday, speaking to Reshet Bet radio. Hershkowitz is the former Science Minister and the current President of Bar Ilan University, and is also a mathematician.

“For every four Israeli scientists who live and work in Israel, there is at least one abroad,” Hershkowitz revealed. “That’s a tremendous amount.”

“In computer science, over one-third of the researchers at top universities in the United States are Israeli,” he said.

There are two main issues leading to “brain drain,” he said: too few available positions, and the salary gap.

“It’s a problem of funding. No matter how much we invest in basic science, in research, it’s never enough. We need to first create more positions, and also to invest in the research infrastructure,” he said.

Regarding the salary issue, Israel’s options are limited, he warned. “I don’t see Israel being able to compete with what they offer in the United States. We’re talking about a totally different scale,” he said.

Studies have found that professors and doctors are most likely among Israelis to leave Israel to seek work abroad. Doctors have warned that too-low salaries and overcrowded hospitals are driving Israelis away from the profession - and sometimes, away from Israel.