In the 1970s, the Government of Israel resolved to allocate funds to support basic scientific research on the basis of scientific competitiveness and excellence and assigned implementation to the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities. To carry out this mandate, the Academy established a Branch for Basic Research that derived its budget from government sources through the Planning and Budgeting Committee (PBC) of the Council for Higher Education. The annual allocation for the Branch — renamed the Basic Research Foundation—climbed from only $500,000 in 1981 to $2 million in 1985. That stage launched a fiscal and conceptual revolution in the budgeting of higher education, including national budgeting of basic research. At the request of then Prime Minister Shimon Peres, the President of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Prof. Joshua Jortner, drafted a master plan for the advancement of basic research in Israel. After the government approved the plan, PBC launched a multiannual budget program for the promotion of the higher-education system and its research activities. After a decade of joint effort, PBC and the Academy were able to boost the Foundation’s budget and transform the Foundation into Israel’s main vehicle for funding basic research on the basis of competitive metrics. The metamorphosis found further expression in 1992 when the Basic Research Foundation was renamed the Israel Science Foundation (ISF).
As the Foundation’s activity expanded vigorously, a decision was made to transform it into an autonomous NGO and on May 25, 1995, the Israel Science Foundation was registered by law as a nonprofit organization. In its new legal status, it began to operate as an independent organization deriving its authority from the scientific community. Despite its independence, ISF maintains a strong relationship with the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities — demonstrated, among other things, in by the cooperation between these institutions and the appointment of the President of the Academy as Chair of the Foundation’s Board. Today, ISF is the largest funder of scientific research, across all fields of knowledge, in a wide variety of funding opportunities. Its purposes are to evaluate and select basic-research proposals in the humanities, social sciences, life sciences, medicine, exact sciences, and technology, and to support the selected proposals by means of research grants. The proposals are chosen in a competitive procedure and on the basis of scientific excellence and quality. Most of the proposals are subjected to a dual reviewing process involving disciplinary committees and peer review. ISF derived 98 percent of its budget for 2018/19 from PBC and obtained the rest from direct donations, prizes, earmarked funds, and miscellaneous funds that the Academy manages.
In 2018/19, ISF had an operating budget of nearly ILS 650 million for all of its grant programs, including the following:
- Core programs: programs funded each year from the core budget, open to all fields of knowledge and not focused on any specific topic;
- Earmarked programs: programs funded from a supplemental budget, intended for a specific research community or topic and usually limited in time.
Within the framework of the core programs, ISF is currently funding more than 2,000 personal research grants at universities and other research institutions, nine research centers, and sixteen research grants under the auspices of the Focal Initiatives in Research in Science and Technology (F.I.R.S.T.) program. In this setting, too, the Foundation subvents the purchase of advanced research equipment for universities, publication of books in the humanities, and international research workshops.
In addition to these core programs, the ISF runs the following earmarked programs:
- A Legacy program for biomedical research—in conjunction with the Legacy Heritage Fund and Israeli donors, to promote and strengthen basic and clinical research into neurodegenerative diseases and genetic disorders.
- Research grants for hospital-based physician-researchers.
- A research-centers program to promote the study of alternatives to petroleum for transport.
- In-service postdoctoral stipends in the social sciences.
- Participation in access to infrastructures of the Israel National Center for Personalized Medicine (INCPM).
- A program for centers of excellence in the area of Meaningful Learning.
- I-CORE Program (Israeli Centers of Research Excellence), the fruit of an initiative by the PBC and the Government of Israel. The program combines reinforcement of research excellence, establishment of crucial research infrastructures, and hiring of new scientists at Israel’s higher-education institutions. The total budget for the program is ILS 35.1 million. In the first two rounds of submissions, sixteen research excellence centers were approved.
- Collaborative arrangements with universities and colleges at the initiative of PBC. To encourage collaboration between college and university researchers, scholars may request extra funding for collaboration within the framework of their personal research grants.
- ISF has expanded its international activity in recent years; at present it cooperates with various research foundations to promote scientific collaboration between Israeli researchers and peers abroad. Included among these foundations are the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC), the University Grants Commission (UGC) in India, the Canadian Institute for Health Research (CIHR), the International Development Research Center (IDRC), the Azrieli Foundation, the National Research Foundation (NRF) in Singapore, the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), and the Broad Institute.
- ISF participates in the Global Research Council (GRC) and is active in the European regional leadership.
For further information about ISF’s activities, consult the Foundation’s annual report for 2018/19 or visit the Foundation’s web site, www.isf.org.il.