Has Is­rael had its last No­bel prize?

The Jewish Chronicle - - Front Page - BY AN­SHEL PF­EF­FER JERUSALEM

FIVE IS­RAELIS have won No­bel Prizes in var­i­ous fields of re­search over the past eight years. Only the United States, Bri­tain and Ja­pan have more No­bel lau­re­ates over the same pe­riod.

This statis­tic may make Is­rael ap­pear to be an aca­demic gi­ant, but many lead­ing pro­fes­sors are con­vinced that the prizes re­flect ef­forts made many years ago and that with the cur­rent level of in­vest­ment, Pro­fes­sor Ada Yonath’s Chem­istry Prize - an­nounced two weeks ago and widely cel­e­brated within Is­rael - may be the last No­bel an Is­raeli will re­ceive for many years to come.

In the past, three Is­raeli uni­ver­si­ties reg­u­larly made the list of the 100 best uni­ver­si­ties in the world, pub­lished in The Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion In­dex. In the lat­est rank­ings, pub­lished this month, not even one qual­i­fied. Pro­fes­sor Manuel Trachtenberg, chair­man of the pow­er­ful bud­get and plan­ning com­mit­tee on the na­tional Coun­cil for Higher Learn­ing, said that “the No­bel Prizes are the fruit of in­vest­ment made in the past. Thirty years ago, Is­rael’s academia led the world in the num­ber of sci­en­tific pub­li­ca­tions per capita. To­day we are only fourth.”

Over t he past decade, pub­lic bud­gets for aca­demic re­search and teach­ing have been slashed by over a bil­lion shekels and an­other bil­lion has been cut from the over­all bud­gets of the coun­try’s uni­ver­si­ties and colleges. For each lec­turer and re­searcher that re­tires, only one takes their place.

Only 104 new sci­en­tists were em­ployed last year in all Is­raeli uni­ver­si­ties, and many of them have yet to re­ceive re­search grants. They also have to con­tend with a much higher num­ber of stu­dents.

A quar­ter of a mil­lion Is­raelis are study­ing to­day in in­sti­tutes of higher learn­ing, triple the num­ber 20 years ago.

Pro­fes­sor Aharon Ben-Zeev, Pres­i­dent of Haifa Uni­ver­sity and the head of the Uni­ver­sity Pres­i­dents Com­mit­tee, says that “Pro­fes­sor Yonath’s win un­der­lines the im­por­tance of in­vest­ing in a new gen­er­a­tion of young lead­ing sci­en­tists in Is­rael, but af­ter years of deep cuts, next year we are go­ing to have to cut an­other NIS 90 mil­lion from re­search bud­gets.”

Pro­fes­sor Yaakov En­glester, a col­league of Pro­fes­sor Yonath’s at the Re­hovot Weiz­mann In­sti­tute, said: “Is­rael shouldn’t take all the credit for her prize, she re­ceived mas­sive sup­port from Amer­i­can and Ger­man re­search in­sti­tutes. The funds she re­ceived from Is­rael were neg­li­gi­ble.”

It is not just a mat­ter of prizes and na­tional pres­tige. Ex­perts are warn­ing that Is­rael’s tech­no­log­i­cal edge over hos­tile neigh­bours in the Mid­dle East is erod­ing. Ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Na­tional Sci­ence Foun­da­tion, a decade ago, Is­rael pro­duced 10 times as much sci­en­tific re­search as Iran, but this year, only two-and-a-half times as much.

Is­rael still pro­duces the same amount of re­search as all the Arab states put to­gether, but a decade ago it was twice that. It is also suf­fer­ing a “brain drain”, with a quar­ter of its re­searchers leav­ing the coun­try.

Is­raeli suc­cess in high-tech over the past two decades is mis­lead­ing, in­sist the pro­fes­sors. The short-term de­velop- ment may de­liver suc­cess in Wall Street share is­sues, but the bedrock of the decades of pa­tient sci­en­tific re­search that brought about Is­rael’s tech­no­log­i­cal revo­lu­tion is dis­ap­pear­ing. A re­cent study shows that 80 per cent of Is­raeli high school stu­dents have not even been ex­posed to sci­en­tific stud­ies.

Prof Yonath her­self tried to show some op­ti­mism at the press con­fer­ence held af­ter her No­bel was an­nounced.

“The young gen­er­a­tion of sci­en­tists in Is­rael to­day are su­perb, of the high­est pos­si­ble qual­ity,” she said, but she also sounded a warn­ing note. “The cuts don’t help. The fact that re­searchers have to spend so much time think­ing about fund­ing wears them down.”

No­bel win­ner Ada Yonath

PHOTO: AP

AvramHer­shkoandAaronCiechanover­won­aNo­bel­chem­istryprizein2004

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