Gov't to invest NIS 150m in engineering research fund

The fund is in response to declining research and the shortage of skilled manpower.

Sources inform ''Globes'' that the Ministry of Science, Technology and Space is planning to establish a new fund, amounting to NIS 150 million a year, to support applied research in engineering. The Ministry of Finance has approved the fund in principle. The Ministry of Science said that it decided to establish the fund in response to declining academic research in engineering in the past 20 years and the shortage of skilled manpower.

"There is a gap, known as the 'valley of death', between pure research and applied research," Ministry of Science Jacob Perry told "Globes". "Pure research only examines the scientific consequences, while applied research is intended for industry, but is not yet part of a commercial company. Today, there are sources of financing for start-ups and applied research in industry, partly through the Office of the Chief Scientist. There is a national fund for basic research, ISS, at the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, but it does not support applied research. As a consequence, Israel suffers from a shortage of engineers of all types."

"Globes": The Ministry of the Economy currently operates the Kamin, Nofar, and Magneton programs for the Chief Scientist.

Perry: "True. The Chief Scientist has several projects in this field, but they definitely don’t provide a full response, because there is still a chasm between pure research and industrial research. They offer short-term answers. This fund will provide long-term support for each project."

The full details about the fund's operations, legal structure, and exact areas of engagement will be decided in the coming months. However, it is already possible to submit applications in calls for papers published by the Ministry of Science. The fund has a budget of NIS 11 million through the end of 2014.

"In the first stage, we're calling for projects from students and researchers at engineering departments - aeronautics, computers, biotechnology, materials engineering, aerospace, and anything you can imagine in engineering," says Perry. "Later, we may become more focused."

Each project will likely receive NIS 500,000-750,000 in funding.

All the funding is from the state, and there are no plans at this stage to leverage the funding through private sources.

According to a report that the Ministry of Science commissioned from the National R&D Council, Israel was a world leader in academic engineering research in the 1980s, but its standing declined in the 1990s, and even more so subsequently. There has been a steady drop in the number of scientific papers, compared with other countries. The biggest decline has been in engineering.

The report states that the decline in engineering research over the years has caused a steady drop in Israel's ranking in academic engineering research and a decline in Israel's academic ranking and standing. In the early 1980s, Israeli faculties of engineering were ranked number 1 in the world in papers per capita. Today, they are ranked between fifth and tenth. The decline in other sciences has been less.

The report adds that financing has been a problem. Funding for basic research in engineering, as a proportion of the already low total budget, is just 7%. The comparative figure in the US is 15%, and in Germany it is 22%. The average budget for research at an Israeli engineering faculty is less compared with other faculties: $47,000 in engineering, compared with $115,000 in other exact sciences.

You're going to use one fund to solve three burning problems: the shortage of engineers, the drop in the quality of basic research in engineering, and the valley of death in applied research. Is this possible? Will support for research cause students to choose engineering?

"Certainly. Financing for research in engineering will include the choice of degree and the decision to continue to higher degrees, to go to industry or to continue teaching. Financing routes this research to applied places and facilitates the hiring of engineers in industry, improves the connection between industry and the faculty, and helps prevent brain drain, by giving students opportunities to achieve their ideas."

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - - on June 19, 2014

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2014

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