Israel Higher Education System Looking to Solve ‘Brain Drain’

Tel Aviv University President Joseph Klafter has called on Israel’s government to allocate more funds to higher education in an effort to solve the nation’s ongoing ‘brain drain’ problem.

The Taub Center for Social Policy Studies recently published figures revealing that Israel is experiencing the greatest academic brain drain to the United States, with 29 Israeli scholars shifting to the US for every 100 who remain at home. Klafter said the issue is “not new and has been around for a while,” according to Danielle Ziri of The Jerusalem Post.

“What brain drain means is that the number of researchers produced by the higher education system is higher than the number of positions we have in the academia and in the industry,” he said. “The solution, or one of the solutions to this problem is that the higher education system needs to be able to absorb more researchers. We are in fact understaffed in terms of faculty members.”

At TAU, the number of faculty members has gone down from 1,300 to just 950 in the past few years, Klafter said.

“When you look at the ratio between students and faculty, on the international level, we are placed quite low,” he added, “If we had more funds in higher education, there is no doubt that additional positions would open and part of the brains would be able to be regained. But without more funds to correct this student- faculty ratio, I don’t see how this problem can be solved.”

A recent survey conducted by the National Union of Israeli Students, showed that students in Israel are increasingly dissatisfied with the quality of teaching in the higher education system.

“Universities may mostly be knowledge producers, but they also have a teaching role in parallel,” Klafter said. “We do need to take these surveys very seriously and see how we can meet the expectations of students. We need to look at what a university can do in the 21st century, in order to refresh and renew interactions with students.”

According to Klafter, TAU is taking several steps to improve teaching methods. The university is beginning to implement a lipped classroom approach and is offering more online courses. Additionally, the university has opened several new study tracks in domains such as brain sciences, biomedicine, cyber technology and marine biotechnology.

Klafter said TAU aims to continue to strengthen its international relationships this year. It recently signed several academic and research cooperation agreements with institutions in China, including Tsinghua University in Beijing.

Klafter said Israel must look to East for higher education cooperation because “the awakening world is in the East, in places like China, India or Singapore.”

“We want to be part of this awakening world, which not only gives new points of view on science, but also exposes us to excellent students from this part of the world,” he explained. “The problems we face in the academia in the 21st century are problems with solutions which require a lot of viewpoints and different perspectives. These can come from many different fields of knowledge, but also from different approaches, different cultures, different ways of thinking.”