Its academic: Israel has worlds worst brain drain

Even though Hebrew University’s economics department is rated one of the top centers of its kind in the world, its chair is having a tough time recruiting faculty.

It’s not that good students don’t come out of the center. Last year eight went to top doctoral programs in the United States, according to Professor Eyal Winter.

It’s that they’re not coming back.

“We discuss their prospects of return after graduating, and they say it’s inconceivable that they’ll stay in the U.S., but it turns out they rarely return,” Winter said.

Hebrew University’s problem is Israel’s problem.

In growing numbers, young top-tier Israeli academics and professionals are being drawn to positions abroad, mostly in the United States.

The academics expect to earn much more money overseas than in Israel, and abroad they face lighter teaching loads and better research facilities. A recent study found that more than one-quarter of lecturers who have taught in Israel have taken jobs in the United States.

That figure makes Israel’s rate of academic brain drain the highest in the world — 10 times the rate in Europe.

The problem is not new to Israel, but it has intensified in recent years, especially in economics and the sciences.

Professor Dan Ben-David, the director of the public policy department at Tel Aviv University, has conducted research on academic brain drain and says 10 percent of Israeli physicists and a third of computer-science academics work in top U.S. university departments.

Brain drain is a significant problem as well in other professional fields with major salary gaps, including high-tech, engineering, business and medicine.

Low salaries and high taxes are leading thousands of Israelis with higher educations to leave the country every year, the report found.

“The canary in the coal mine is telling us something: that the state of Israel is failing to allow the educated, middle- and upper-middle class a good life here,” said Omer Moav, a Hebrew University economist who co-authored research on the topic for the Shalem Center.

The study found that between 1995 and 2002, 4.7 percent of Israelis with master’s degrees and above who were between the ages of 30 and 40 decided to leave.

Shraga Brosh, the president of the Manufacturers Association of Israel, blames the flight of some of Israel’s top minds to government cuts in research-and-development budgets.

Brosh announced earlier this year that 25,000 high-tech workers had left Israel in the past seven years to work for U.S. companies. Researchers dismissed the number as inflated, but the announcement highlighted the sense that Israel is in a crunch.

The loss of human resources costs Israel some $1.9 billion each year, economists in Brosh’s organization estimated. They are currently raising money to provide stipends for returning Israelis.