האקדמיה הלאומית הישראלית למדעים The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities - Israel Science Foundation
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Israel Science Foundation

Among the most important contributions of The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities to the advancement of science in Israel is the establishment of the Israel Science Foundation (ISF). The Foundation, the major organization supporting basic research in Israel, subsidizes research in all fields of knowledge, on the basis of academic excellence. The funding distributed by the Foundation has increased steadily with the years, reaching approximately NIS 727 million in the 2020–2021 academic year.
The Foundation was a branch of the Academy in its early years, and, although it has been independent since 1995, it retains its strong relationship with the Academy. The presidents of the Academy, during their terms, chair the Foundation’s Council, which includes a number of Academy members. The Foundation supports research via a number of tracks, including individual research grants and grants for the purchase of equipment, as well as funding for workshops, conferences, and book publication.
 
Establishment of the “Branch for Basic Research”
Allocations by the American government, which had been an important source of basic scientific research budgets in Israel, decreased steadily in the early 1970s. Asked by Minister of Education Yigal Allon to prepare a plan for addressing the problem, the Academy proposed the establishment of a dedicated foundation, financed by the state. A 1972 government resolution led to the establishment of the “Branch for Basic Research,” and Professor Ernst David Bergman, Chair of the Academy’s Natural Sciences Division, was named to head it. One of its most important features was the direct funding of researchers and research, based on personal scientific excellence, rather than the transfer of global sums to universities.
 
The Crisis in Higher Education and the Master Plan for Basic Research
Israeli research faced a severe crisis in the mid-1980s due to the erosion of the universities’ independent research budgets. In April 1985, when Prime Minister Shimon Peres visited the Academy to mark the 25th anniversary of its founding, the Academy’s Council acquainted him with the severity of the situation. The prime minister tasked the Academy, as an advisory body to the government, with proposing a plan to resolve the crisis.              
 
In 1986, Academy President Professor Joshua Jortner attended two cabinet meetings dedicated to the topic of scientific research in Israel, after which the prime minister, by then Yitzhak Shamir, ordered an increase in the budget of the Basic Research Fund. The Master Plan for Basic Research, which was to become one of the most influential documents on the budgeting of research in Israel, was published in October 1986 and submitted to the government several months later. In the plan, the Academy proposed that the budget for direct support of Israeli research projects be increased substantially by strengthening the status of the Academy’s Basic Research Fund. The government gave its consent in principle to the master plan.
 
 
Professor Joshua Jortner, President of the Israel Academy, with Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir in his office, 1991.
 
Mobilizing Resources and Taking the Budget to the Next Level
In the years after the acceptance of the Academy’s Master Plan for Basic Research, the Academy, under the leadership of its president, Professor Joshua Jortner, with the assistance of Professor Alex Keynan, adviser to the president, turned its efforts toward increasing the budget for basic research. The Academy worked intensively to raise funds from abroad and launched a public-relations campaign among decision-makers warning of the loss of Israel’s research excellence. Indeed, thanks to the Academy’s efforts, and with the help of the Planning and Budgeting Committee of the Council for Higher Education, the Fund’s budget was increased greatly. The scope of its activity doubled over the following decade, and the budget increased fivefold. In 1992, the Fund’s name was changed to the Israel Science Foundation.
 
The increasing scope of the Foundation’s activity led to a realization that it ought to stand on its own, and the Foundation became an independent non-profit organization in 1995. It operated under the Academy’s administration until 2014 and then separated
 
from that as well. The enormous increase in the Foundation’s budget over the years attests to its success as a mechanism for supporting excellent basic research in Israel. The state’s budgeting of the Foundation is accomplished via the Planning and Budgeting Committee. In 2021,
the Foundation’s budget for all the tracks of its activity was approximately NIS 727 million, 98 percent of it from the Planning and Budgeting Committee.
   
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, visit the Foundation’s web site, www.isf.org.il.