Science Without Work:

How can the Biology Graduates’ Problem be Solved via Innovation?

About 1,500 Israeli biology students complete their studies every year, 75% of whom continue to a master’s degree in Biology. A third of the students completing a bachelor’s degree will continue to a doctorate in the field – comprising a quarter of all doctoral students in Israel.1 The fact that a significant portion of biology students choose to continue to more advanced degrees, stems primarily from the lack of suitable employment for biology graduates. Although these graduates constitute high-quality human capital, only one third of those receiving biology education work in this field in Israel and even these are typically in low productivity jobs compared to employees with similar experience in other professions. The average salary difference between biology graduates and graduates of fields with similar psychometric (SAT) averages such as economics, law, and engineering is between 30%-80%.2 The lack of local employment opportunities leads a significant proportion of biology graduates to turn to teaching (approx. 12%) or to choose to move abroad because of the higher salaries paid there – biology positions in the US pay salaries 30% higher than those in Israel.3

Bio-Convergence – a multidisciplinary field of research that combines biology and engineering – therefore constitutes an interesting employment opportunity for many biologists. Although this field has existed for many years in the academic world in Israel and abroad, recent years have witnessed an acceleration in the establishment of research institutions and the development of new models at various centers in countries such as the US, Korea, and the UK.4 A study conducted at the Innovation Authority in 2019 identified that because this is still a relatively young field without a distinct center of global leadership, Israel has a real opportunity to become a global leader in this developing industry. The connection between biology and engineering constitutes a relative advantage for Israel in relation to the other global bio-tech centers, and will, in the medium-term of a few years, enable the employment of high-quality available personnel numbering 20,000 scientists in life sciences fields at important high-tech companies characterized by high productivity. Furthermore, because Bio-Convergence is actually a combination of disciplines, this sector is expected to absorb a wide range of graduates, thereby helping to widen the high-tech employment circle, both in core and auxiliary professions.

The Covid crisis has created a "perfect storm” – the strengthening high-tech industry, an intensification of the global healthcare revolution, and the maturation of government measures that supplement the Bio-Convergence Program such as investment in digital health, completion of the vaccination program, and the quality and availability of medical data have all created conditions that enable Bio-Convergence to become the State of Israel’s next economic growth engine. Accordingly, the Authority allocated NIS 150 million during 2020 to support companies in this field. As part of the National Infrastructure Forum for Research and Development (Telem), the Authority is also currently striving to formulate a comprehensive national program aimed at creating a competitive ecosystem in Israel that will include the construction of infrastructures and which will strengthen the connection between academia and industry in this field.

 

Biology students in Israel 2018-2020

Biology students in Israel 2018-2020

  • 1. Sources: The Planning and Budgeting Committee (PBC) – ‘Opening figures for the 2020-21 Academic Year’, CBS – ‘New bachelor’s Degree Students in STEM Subjects, according to selected study courses and gender’, and a study by the Chief Economist’s Division in the Ministry of Finance – ‘Not all Degrees are Born Equal’, Zeev Krill, Asaf Geva, and Tzlil Aloni.
  • 2. Sources: CBS data – ‘University Students Studying for a bachelor’s Degree’, Bank of Israel study – ‘Over Educated and Disparity Between Occupation and Studied Profession Among University and College Graduates’, Noam Zusman, Idan Liper, and Dror Rosfeld, and a study by the Chief Economist’s Division in the Ministry of Finance – ‘Not all Degrees are Born Equal’, Zeev Krill, Asaf Geva, and Tzlil Aloni.
  • 3. As of 2018, about 11% of university graduates who lived overseas for more than 3 years were from biology science subjects. Sources: CBS data – ‘Salaried Employees, according to selected occupations’, ‘New bachelor’s Degree Students in STEM Subjects, according to selected study courses and gender’, a study by the Chief Economist’s Division in the Ministry of Finance – ‘The Influence of the Degree of Selectivity of an Educational Institution on the Salaries of Young Academics’, Zeev Krill, Yuval Fischer, and Yona Hekt, and a study by the Knesset Research and Information Center – ‘Israeli Academics Overseas and Activity to Bring them Back to Israel’.
  • 4. For more details, see the 2019 Innovation Authority Report.