Israel will enable its universities to offer lecturers in high-demand disciplines an expanded absorption benefits basket worth up to NIS 600,000. The measure is in a new immigrant absorption plan agreed between Commissioner of Wages Kobi Bar-Natan and representatives of the universities. The aim of the plan is to persuade Israeli researchers to return to Israel to teach after doing post-doctoral research overseas.
Academic institutions in Israel currently suffer from a shortage of hundreds of senior faculty members in computer sciences, engineering, mathematics, and physics. There are enough Israeli professors and Phds to fill all the vacant positions, but about 1,600 of the best Israeli lecturers work in US universities.
Although the new plan is meant to solve Israel's brain drain problem, there is a long way to go, as an Israeli lecturer at a top flight academic institution overseas can easily earn four times what he or she would earn in Israel, not to mention the research budgets they can command, making returning to Israel an unattractive prospect.
Furthermore, high salaries and good conditions in the technology industry overseas tempt both programmers and academics, which is why there has been a great deal of talk about an absorption benefits package for tech workers returning to Israel. Academics, however, unlike tech workers, have almost no choice but to fly abroad to do post-doctoral studies.
In order to obtain a teaching post at an Israeli university, young Phds need to gain experience at some highly rated academic institution overseas. In other words, the universities suffering from manpower shortages and offering "come home" grants are the ones that sent the Israeli lecturers abroad in the first place.
For years, the State of Israel financed an absorption benefits package for university lecturers amounting to a total of some NIS 50 million annually, and given to about 200 people. Up to now, however, the matter has not been clearly regulated, and the universities have had no definition of the people to whom it should be awarding grants. A situation has thus arisen in which almost all senior faculty members receive these financial benefits, and the absorption package has lost its purpose - to bring senior researchers back to Israel - and is also given to lecturers who would in any case be teaching in Israel.
Moreover, the universities currently pay lecturers a uniform amount, whether they are in high-demand fields such as computer sciences or in less pressured fields such as the humanities. The actual amount varies from one university to another, ranging from NIS 200,000 to NIS 300,000 for each lecturer.
Under the new model, details of which have reached "Globes", the Ministry of Finance will encourage the universities to increase the absorption package for lecturers in the sciences, and reduce the amounts given to lecturers in other fields. The overall budget that the state allocates to the matter will not change, but the universities will be given flexibility in managing it in a way more akin to norms in the private sector.
Each university will need to choose one of three levels of grant awards. At the lowest level, smaller amounts will be awarded to larger numbers of lecturers, while conversely at the highest level the grants will be larger, but there will be fewer recipients. On the highest level, the average package will be worth NIS 250,000, but universities will be able to offer absorption packages worth NIS 600,000 to lecturers of high repute in high-demand disciplines, with the possibility of a top-up from the Ministry of Finance. A university that chooses this option will, however, have less money to offer other lecturers. The grant can be used for a variety of expenses, such as a car, children's education, and so on.
Last August, the Ministry of Finance proposed a plan to the universities allowing even higher differentiation, with up to NIS 1 million for an individual lecturer. The universities' representatives expressed reservations about this plan, fearing it would lead to the formation of different strata on campus, and after long negotiations the current plan was agreed between the sides.
Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on April 13, 2022.
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