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Breakthrough Dividend: Chapter 6 - Academia

Universities and Research Centers

Israel has approximately 85,000 students currently enrolled in its Institutions of Higher Education (IHE). Israel's IHE boast an exceptionally high proportion of graduate students. Almost 30 percent of all students are studying for advanced degrees (25 percent Master's, 5 percent, Ph.D.)! Over 30 percent of all Israeli Bachelor and Master's level students are pursuing degrees in the natural sciences, medicine and engineering. At the Ph.D. level, this rises to an even more impressive 60 percent.

Owing to Israel's compulsory military service (36 months for males, 20 months for females), most Israeli students are two-three years older than their counterparts abroad. This interruption in academic study does not pose undue difficulties and, since more mature students enter the system, the average Israeli student's commitment is higher than an American's. In fact, over 65 percent of all undergraduates complete their studies within 5 years (compared to 57 percent in the U.S.). The usual duration of studies for a bachelor's degree in Israel's research universities is three years; however, this is extended in fields such as engineering (four years), architecture (five years) and medicine (six years).

Table 4. Distribution of Israeli IHE Students by Degree (1993)

Subject Bachelor(%) Masters(%) Ph.D.(%) Total(%)
Humanities 28.7 25.5 23.6 28.3
Social Sciences 28.4 36.5 10.6 29.1
Law 4.9 1.1 1.0 3.7
Medical Subjects 6.5 10.9 4.9 7.4
Natural Sciences & Math. 15.6 13.3 45.4 16.6
Agriculture 1.1 2.1 4.2 1.5
Engineering & Architecture 14.8 10.6 10.3 13.4

Israel's six major universities are all research universities. Four of them -- the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU), Tel Aviv University (TAU), Bar-Ilan University and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev -- offer a full range of academic disciplines. The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology offers mainly engineering and natural sciences courses, while the University of Haifa offers mainly the humanities, social sciences and law. Although officially a "research institute," the Weizmann Institute of Science (WIS) involves several hundred postgraduate students in advanced state-of-the-art research. Approximately 80 percent of Israel's students study in these six research-oriented IHE, rather than in smaller profession-oriented colleges. Israel's two largest universities, HU and TAU, have roughly 20,000 students each, about the same as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The other four (excluding WIS) have an enrollment (10,000) similar to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro or Wilmington.

Table 5. Distribution of Israeli Students by IHE (1993)

University Bachelors Masters Ph.D. Total
Hebrew University 11,770 5,565 1,720 19,055
Technion 7,590 2,240 640 10,470
Tel Aviv University 15,420 6,575 1,070 23,065
Bar-Ilan University 9,890 2,720 560 13,170
Haifa University 7,570 1,940 120 9,630
Ben-Gurion Univ. 6,390 1,490 310 8,190
Weizmann Institute -- 230 510 740
TOTAL 58,630 20,760 4,930 84,320

Israeli Academia

The exceptional importance of academia to Israeli biotechnology stems from the fact that some 80 percent of all Israeli basic research is performed in IHE. Israel's financial commitment to academic R&D is, considering her size, also exceptional. It came to 0.70 percent of Israel's entire GNP, compared to 0.35 percent for Britain and 0.50 percent for the United States.

Israeli academic biotechnology research is performed both within standard university faculties and departments, and within special intra-university research centers. A representative list is given in Table 6. Such centers vary from dedicated separate facilities to "wall-less" centers in name only (largely a matter of conferences, meetings and bookkeeping). Molecular genetics and immunological biotech techniques are widely used throughout Israeli academia. There are also close links between university departments, university-affiliated hospitals and local R&D-based industries, and these organizations often share some personnel.

University research is financed by:

• External competitive research grants ($50 million, 36 percent);

• The ordinary budget of the universities ($50 million, 36 percent); and

• Industry and government research grants and contracts ($40 million, 28 percent).

The total research budget of the universities is thus about $140 million, excluding principal investigators' salaries. In particular, the principal investigators' summer salaries must be paid by the universities, an additional $40 million drain on university resources.

Table 6. Biotechnology in Israeli Academia

Bar-Ilan University

Department of Life Sciences

Cancer, AIDS and Immunology Research Institute

Health Sciences Research Center

Institute of Advanced Technology

Lusinchi Center for Applied Research of Life Sciences

Meyerhoff Center for Drug-Receptor Interactions

Ben-Gurion University

Department of Life Sciences

School of Medicine

Center for Health Sciences

Institute for Applied Research

Microalgal Biotechnology Laboratory

Hebrew University

Silberman Institute of Life Sciences*

Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School*

Center for the Study of Aging

Center for the Study of Normal and Leukemic Blood Cells

Chanock Center for Virology

Humphrey Center for Experimental Medicine and Cancer

Lautenberg Center for General and Tumor Immunology

Szold Institute for Applied Science

Warburg Center for Biotechnology in Agriculture

Technion-Israel Institute of Technology

Department of Biology

Rappaport Faculty of Medicine

Rappaport Institute of Research Medical Sciences

Silver Institute of Biomedical Engineering

Tel Aviv University

Wise Faculty of Life Sciences**

Department of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology

Sackler Faculty of Medicine

Abramson Center for Medical Physics

Cancer Biology Research Center

Center for Technological Analysis and Forecasting

Eskenasy Institute for Cancer Research

Glasberg Tower for Medical Research

Institute of Cancer Research

Institute of Cereal Crops Improvement

Israel Institute of Biological Research

Kuvin Center for Infections and Tropical Diseases

Neufeld Cardiac Research Institute

Rogoff-Wellcome Medical Research Institute (BMC)

Sackler Institute of Molecular Medicine

Weizmann Institute of Science

Faculty of Biology

Faculty of Biophysics-Biochemistry

Cohen Center for Biomembrane Research

Dobrin Center for Nutrition

Forchheimer Center for Molecular Genetics

Kimmelman Center for Biomolecular Structure

Koch Minerva Center for Autoimmune Disease

Levine Center for Applied Research

Lubin Center for Plant Biotechnology

MacArthur Center for Molecular Biology of Tropical Diseases

Mazer Center for Structural Biology

Meller Center for Biology of Aging

* Combines Departments of Biochemistry, Botany, Genetics, Microbiology, Neurobiology, Zoology. The Medical School also has Institutes of Biochemistry and Microbiology.

** Includes Departments of Biochemistry, Biotechnology, Botany, Microbiology, Zoology.

One unique, in this case negative, feature of the Israeli system, is the extraordinarily low postdoctoral/senior staff ratio: 0.09 to 1. This reflects an active policy decision by the Israeli government and her academic community to encourage postdoctoral work abroad. A sizable fraction of all Israeli postdocs in biotechnology choose to work in American laboratories during the first two years after receiving their degrees. Ivy-League schools and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) are favorite destinations. The corresponding difficulty of acquiring sufficient high-quality postdoctoral fellows, the "workhorses" of most U.S. academic research, is a major research-related constraint in Israel. The positive side of this unusual phenomenon is a particularly close U.S.-Israel research relationship, which endures after the postdocs return home.

Table 7. Who Carries Out Research?

Senior Academic Staff 4,500
Postdoctoral Fellows 400
Graduate Students 5,000
Technicians 3,500
TOTAL 13,400

Israel's system of higher education is regulated at the national level by a Council for Higher Education (CHE), established by the Knesset (Israel's Parliament) in 1958. The same law assures Israeli IHE legal autonomy. The CHE's powerful Planning and Budget Committee (known by its Hebrew initials, VATAT) plans, proposes and supervises the allocation of the Government's funds to IHE education and research. In this it resembles the former British University Grants Committee, more than any U.S. model.

Where Does the Money Come From? Most Israeli IHE receive the bulk of their funds from the Israeli Government via VATAT. The total "ordinary" (operating) budget of these IHE in 1992-93 was about $800 million, derived from:

Table 8. Who Pays?

Direct VATAT allocations 50.5%
VATAT earmarks, matching endowments, etc. 13.5%
Tuition fees 21.0%
Donations (many foreign) 8.5%
Miscellaneous 6.5%
TOTAL 100.0%

Government support to Israel's IHE has varied dramatically over the past three decades. VATAT allocations rose from 53 percent of a typical university's budget in 1965, to a high of 84 percent in 1973, as Israel's high-tech economy began to blossom. It then plunged to 64 percent in 1978, despite a growing national reliance on S&T-based industry, and has remained about the same ever since, despite a 30 percent growth in the student population. Academic research-funding has been squeezed by a slow but steady increase in academic salaries, recently boosted sharply by a teacher's strike. The share of the university operating budget available for research activities -- including biotechnology -- has decreased from about 6.5 percent in 1972 to less than 3 percent in 1993. Meanwhile, global inflation has made imported research equipment and supplies more expensive every year.

These conditions increasingly force Israel's naturally-enterprising researchers to turn to outside sources -- over 300 different ones at last count -- to make ends meet. These potential sources of vital research funds are spread all over the world, and involve a bewildering array of diverse, even conflicting, requirements. The IHE have responded to this challenge by creating strong, proactive research authorities to help investigators locate and follow-up grant opportunities. They have been quite successful, and foreign research grants now account for about 10 percent of the country's total academic research budget.

More than one-fourth of all Israeli academic research, and an even larger fraction of all basic research, is financed by four Israeli competitive grants programs: the Israel National Science Foundation (see below), two U.S.-Israel binational grant funds (BSF, BARD, Chapter 9) and a Germany-Israel binational grant fund (GIF). All four are independent legal entities, responsible to their own Boards of Directors, with headquarters in Israel. Together they provide over $40 million a year to the Israeli research community.

The Israel National Science Foundation (Israel NSF), founded by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, and largely funded by VATAT, has recently evolved into the largest and broadest research foundation in Israel. VATAT's allocation has grown from $4 million in 1987 to $17.5 million in 1994. It is scheduled to grow to $20 million in 1995. The Israel NSF also receives funds from private foundations, particularly the U.S.-based C.H. Revson Foundation. In 1993, the Israel NSF received 726 research proposals of which 204 (28 percent) were approved. Although most research was too basic to be called biotechnology per se, half of all proposals were in the life sciences, and 35 were in molecular biology. A special competition also supports the International Human Genome Project. Grants in the life sciences averaged about $35,000 a year for two-three years. The Israel NSF is the only large Israeli public research foundation that does not require a foreign research partner.

The U.S.-Israel Binational Science Foundation (BSF) and the U.S.-Israel Binational Agricultural Research & Development Fund (BARD) are particularly important to U.S.-Israel cooperation in biotechnology and are discussed in detail in Chapter 9. They each have annual research budgets of $9-11 million, derived from the interest on endowments contributed equally by both the U.S. and Israel.

The Research Continuum

One major strength of the Israeli university R&D system is how its various pieces -- research scientists, research authority and commercialization unit -- fit together. Israeli research-oriented products often begin as a basic research idea in the mind of an academic scientist (Figure 1). The idea is tested in a few preliminary experiments and calculations and, if these are promising, the researcher will probably start looking for external funds. In Israel, the university's research authority, which maintains files on several hundred funding sources, will help prepare applications and, if an award is received, assist in administering the grant.

The researcher, perhaps with additional collaborators, might then undertake applied research and, when successful, alert the university's commercialization unit. The commercialization units are legally independent companies that help evaluate and, if warranted, patent and promote the university's new ideas as licensable or marketable products. The commercialization unit often remains a partner for the university in any new startup companies formed. For example, the Technion R&D Foundation's subsidiaries include Agtech, Biolume, Chaitech, Delitech, Dimotech, Finetech, Franztech and i-Sight.

A list of Israeli research authorities, commercialization units and their affiliations follows: YISSUM (Hebrew University), Yeda (Weizmann Institute) and Ramot (Tel Aviv University) are particularly active in commercializing university-derived biotechnology.

Table 9. Israeli University Support Organizations

BAR-ILAN U. 3-5318402 3-6771088 BI/RDC 3-5318441 3-6771088
BEN-GURION U. 7-461701 7-271612 Adv. Prod. 7-276420 7-276420
HEBREW U. 2-754613 2-664740 YISSUM 2-635149 2-660331
J.C.T. 2-751111 2-422075 JCTech. 2-751134 2-751195
TECHNION 4-292576 4-326607 TRDF 4-292111 4-323056
TEL AVIV U. 3-6409698 3-6409697 RAMOT 3-6428765 3-6429865
U. HAIFA 4-240111 4-342101
WEIZMANN I. 8-342111 8-466966 YEDA 8-470617 8-470739

The YISSUM procedure is typical of most commercialization units. Scientists with a potentially-marketable discovery file an internal disclosure form with YISSUM which, if there is pressure to publish, immediately files a patent (most U.S. university patents are filed a year later). Otherwise, YISSUM might wait for preliminary expressions of interest. To give a sense of scale, each year YISSUM applies for 30-40 patents and signs approximately 70 contracts with industry, about 20 of which are R&D service contracts. By comparison, the Univerity of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State filed 20 and 21 patents, respectively, in 1991. In 1993, however, their patent filings rose to 31 and 57 respectively.

YISSUM promotes about 150 products at a time. These flow from the work of approximately 600 research scientists (and their students), supported by an annual research budget of about $45 million. About half of YISSUM's gross earnings are from overseas. In contrast, UNC-Chapel Hill gets $187 million each year in research grants alone.

In 1990, the Weizmann Institute's R&D company, Yeda, filed 87 patents: 52 new, 35 foreign extensions. Tel Aviv University's Ramot has about 100 commercial projects on offer at any time, and its 70 professional in-house staff work on another 20 preindustrial research projects. In fact, a sizable fraction of all new Israeli patents are issued to universities and university "spin-off" companies -- considerably more than in the U.S. -- but the need to maintain an appropriate balance between basic and applied research remains a continuing policy concern.

Several universities also have their own preindustrial applied research funds and/or laboratories that help develop promising innovations to the point where commercial feasibility can be demonstrated. However, these are generally small, few and far less than needed (Chapter 20). Looking further ahead, many universities have already established science-based industrial parks near their campuses that act as "incubators" for fledgling new high-tech industries.