ISRAEL: Low in rankings but fourth in science

While Israel's universities are relatively low in world rankings, the country currently ranks fourth in the world in terms of scientific activity after Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark, according to data compiled by the Council for Higher Education, based on a National Science Foundation report of 2008 and released at a recent conference at Bar-Ilan University.

The data shows that, in 2005, Israeli scientists published 6,309 essays in foreign scientific journals. Of all the scientific articles published in 2005, 0.89% were by Israeli scientists. In 1997, 1.03% of all scientific articles in the world were by Israelis. Israel's role in global scientific activity is almost 10 times larger than its percentage of the world's population.

But Steven Stav, Director-General of the Council for Higher Education, said Israel's universities ranked relatively low compared with "the excellent publication output because of certain criteria including mobility of staff and students".

Stav explained there were not a high percentage of foreign staff or students at Israeli universities and programme were usually in Hebrew, not in English. Another criteria for the rankings was "employers' satisfaction" and since not many Israeli students worked abroad, the country ranked poorly there as well.

But when it comes to research and peer reviewed publications, Israel is in fourth place in the world - not only in terms of quantity of publications but also in terms of quality and the impact of the publications.

Other trends in academe tracked by the council show that fewer American academics are cooperating internationally, especially with Israeli academics. This means fewer joint publications with Israeli (and other) scholars and, according to the Shanghai Jiao Tong University rankings, fewer American academics at the top level.

Dr Meir Zadok, Director of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, said Israel's scientific success was due to the strict criteria by which scientists were judged: "Competition for positions is growing in Israel and the promotion processes are very rigorous, so people publish a lot to get ahead. In addition, there are very strong traditions of quality in Israeli academe."

The council's planning and budgeting committee warned that new research centres around the world were threatening the status of Israeli universities. The reason for the relative decrease in Israel's scientific activity was the fast growth of research centres in developing countries, especially China and India, while the number of scientists at Israeli universities was dwindling, according to officials on the committee.