Friday April 18, 2014
Israel Hayom
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Minister Yaakov Peri

Keeping Israeli academics in Israel

The announcement that professors Arieh Warshel and Michael Levitt won the Nobel Prize carried mixed emotions. Warshel was born in Israel and graduated from the Israeli education system, which paved the way for his academic career in Israel. Levitt arrived in Israel when he was 21 years old and began his academic career at the Weizmann Institute. But for the last 30 years or so, both have decided to live in the United States, conducting their research at leading universities there.

Can we possibly take pride in the fact that the two researchers were educated in Israel, or must we re-evaluate given the fact that Israel failed to keep Warshel and Levitt within its homegrown academia? The answer to that question, one that is quite typical in academia, is that we should do both.

According to Science Ministry data, about 10 percent of Israeli citizens holding a tertiary degree have chosen to live abroad for an extended period of time. The inherent problem is that, when push comes to shove, academics who travel abroad for "just a few years" to broaden their academic or professional experience often find themselves caving to generous offers proffered by universities that understand the value of gifted researchers.

Bolstering our ability to offer prodigious academics and researchers better work conditions and providing a truly professional track that keeps researchers in Israel for the long run is nothing less than a strategic mission for Israel, no less than providing job opportunities themselves. Being admitted to the European Union's Horizon 2020 project is a good example of a possible solution to the issue of providing better opportunities at home. Horizon 2020 will see Israeli universities partner with Europe's most prestigious research programs.

But joining the Horizon 2020 project almost slipped out of Israel's hands. Over the past several months, the science community in Israel waited with bated breath watching how the debacle would play out. At the last minute, the Israeli government succeeded in thwarting both the opposition and our non-inclusion in the program. Science is one of the most crucial and central drivers of this country's economic growth -- we cannot allow politics to get in the way. We cannot afford to let our scientists, whose knowledge was cultivated in Israeli schools, not be a part of the groundbreaking research being carried out in the best universities, at the best labs, throughout the world.

Research in technology or the sciences is an occupation that requires diligent work, labor that often borders on the Sisyphean. Individuals in these fields need to overlook enjoyment, providing expertise and expanding scientific foundations and research institutions in Israel so that the next time an Israeli is on the Nobel stage, we won't have to wonder whether he or she is a product of Israeli science or not. To continue maintaining our relative advantage in the sciences and development, we must work tirelessly investing in the next generation. The very hands applauding professors Warshel and Levitt now must get to work setting the stage for tomorrow's winners, the high school and university students of today.

Yaakov Peri is the science and technology minister and a Yesh Atid member of Knesset.


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