Bar-Ilan University aims to bring home 150 researchers

Bar-Ilan University Photo: Avihu Schapira

The university plans to fund the estimated $150 million cost of the program from its own resources.

Bar-Ilan University and ScienceAbroad, the organization of Israeli scientists living overseas, have announced that Bar-Ilan University is planning to hire 150 new scientists in the exact sciences and engineering in the next decade. Bar-Ilan President Prof. Arie Zaban is leading the plan together with Vice-President for Research Prof. Shulamit Michaeli. Bar-Ilan University currently has 700 senior researchers, so the plan means a significant increase in staff.

The plan's estimated cost is $150 million, based on a calculation of $1 million for hiring a new scientist in the exact sciences, including salary, laboratories, equipment, and a budget for students. The university said that its budget was already prepared for the measure, with its own resources paying for the added cost. The university's budget is paid for by the Ministry of Education, tuition, and donations.

Universities competing to attract expatriate scientists

This is the first time that an Israeli academic institution has announced a campaign on this scale to bring back scientists. Other leading research universities hire academic staff at the rate of 50 scientists a year, and Tel Aviv University previously announced that it would bring back 100 scientists from overseas within three years. At the same time, up until now this has not been done in the framework of an official program with a special budget extending as long into the future as in this case.

In the first stage, in order to encourage scientists to return to Bar-Ilan University, the university will hold an employment fair in cooperation with ScienceAbroad and the Ministry of Aliya and Integration. Employment fairs are being held in ScienceAbroad centers in Boston, New York, Washington DC, Los Angeles, San Diego, the University of California at Berkley, and Stanford University.

It is believed that 2,000 Israeli researchers are working at overseas institutions of higher education, mainly in the US and Europe. The other universities in Israel are also competing for this pool of scientists, so that each university will have to make a bigger effort to attract the best expatriate minds.

Michaeli, who heads the delegation, said, "We plan to tell the Israeli scientists abroad that Bar-Ilan University is currently in the midst of unprecedented growth and is ready and able to be the ideal academic home for them to return to."

Making up for the lost decade

In addition to Michaeli, other members of the delegation from Bar-Ilan University include Prof. Sharon Ruthstein from the Chemistry Department, who will tell about her personal experience as a young scientist at the university and about research in the Physics and Chemistry Departments; Prof. Alex Fish, head of the nano-electronics course in the Faculty of Engineering, who will tell about Faculty of Engineering and about his personal absorption at the university; and Prof. Yonatan Aumann, head of the Computer Science Department, who will tell about the latest research in his department.

Bar-Ilan University was previously well known for the humanities, social sciences, and Judaism. In the past decade, however, it has achieved substantial capabilities in the natural sciences. The new plan is likely to enable Bar-Ilan University to make even more progress in this direction and put it in the same class as leading Israeli research universities in the exact sciences. The exact sciences usually receive more support in research grants and donations, so Bar-Ilan University is likely to make back its investment in the program within a decade.

At the beginning of the millennium, what was called the lost decade in higher education in Israel, new jobs for researchers at universities were often not budgeted at all. The result was that scientists who went abroad for post-doctorates were unable to get university jobs in Israel, or had to leave the university if they wanted to return to Israel. After a number of research reports described the damage liable to result from this process to higher education and industry in Israel, the trend was reversed. Since 2009, the higher education budget has included a special item for budgeting returning scientists and the rate of hiring new scientists at research universities and colleges has been 300 a year since the program began.

Israel's 2018 higher education budget is NIS 10.8 billion, compared with NIS 10.5 billion in 2017. NIS 92 million from this budget is set aside for hiring scientists. The budget item explicitly states that the emphasis is on higher engineering and computer science researchers, because these areas are needed for the Israeli economy and employment. In other words, scientists in less practical areas will meanwhile have to wait abroad until a similar program is developed for them.

The Israeli government established in 2010 a five-year plan for establishing 30 excellence centers in academic institutions in the framework of the "bringing back minds" policy. Leadership of the project was assigned to the Israel Council for Higher Education. 18 centers were actually founded at which returning scientists were hired. As a follow-up to this project, the Ministry of Aliya and Integration, the Ministry of Economy and Industry, the Council for Higher Education, and the Ministry of Finance instituted a pilot national program to bring back higher education graduates to Israel. The Israel Innovation Authority continues to operate a program for all Israeli university graduates residing overseas planning to work in industry (with an emphasis on people with qualifications needed in high tech).

ScienceAbroad, a non-profit organization founded in 2006, aims to strengthen its ties with Israeli scientists all over the world and to bring them back to Israel following their overseas training. In cooperation with the Ministry of Aliya and Integration, the organization subsidizes plane tickets for scientists to come to Israel for job interviews.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on July 30, 2018

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2018

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Bar-Ilan University Photo: Avihu Schapira
Bar-Ilan University Photo: Avihu Schapira
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