Global Mobility: Releasing HR's strategic potential

09 May 2022      Ruth Turner, Membership Officer

The UK Higher Education sector continues to respond to the opportunities, and grapple with the challenges, arising from the new workforce operating models necessitated by the Covid-19 pandemic and the changing regulatory landscape in general. A number of these are not limited to the UK.

There are still to be resolved risks with employees having been ‘Covid-displaced’ in unexpected locations, whilst the easing of some travel restrictions has resulted in the recommencement of previously deferred travel, whether for international research, in-person teaching at overseas partner institutions, or the pursuit of fellowships, sabbaticals and/or new research collaborations. These bring increased risk in terms of cost, operations and reputation. There is also further demand for international remote working, already on the increase within Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) before the pandemic, and the need for sustainable global travel to support targets to reduce global emissions. Even more focus is therefore needed now on where employees are travelling to and from, what they are doing, and whether these arrangements meet the HEI’s academic, operational and strategic needs.

Why does this matter for HR leaders and colleagues at UK universities? Well, despite the necessary focus on costs when it comes to analysing, approving and initiating international working arrangements (IWAs), our February 2022 HE Global Mobility survey found that 90% of universities look to the HR function to take responsibility for the management and/or approval of these arrangements. HR is therefore central to the future success of IWAs within their HEIs.

We know from working with numerous HEIs that the definition of success can vary when viewed from the perspective of the individual academic and the institution as a whole. Many across the sector are considering the feasibility of the curtailment of IWAs where the main driver is employee preference rather than operational or strategic need, with some having already implemented some preventative measures in this respect.

However, evidence indicates that limiting IWAs is not the preferred option for those universities which are focused on developing new research relationships, attracting new staff, and/or developing their international teaching and research strategy. Our survey reveals that 32% of universities rank improved research collaborations as the area of highest benefit from IWAs, with others ranking the ability to attract new staff talent (16%), the achievement of planned future international teaching and research strategy (16%), and alignment with existing strategy (11%) as their number one benefit of these arrangements.

As individuals reassess what is important to them in a post Covid-19 world, and as UK HEIs seek to balance employee personal wishes against operational and strategic needs, addressing flexibility of working in an international context is key to accessing the above benefits; especially when receiving increased, and sometimes more complex, employee working requests, or when the university is seeking to deploy staff whose nationality or country of tax residence may not be the UK. Our results show HEIs expecting increases in international travel to China (54% of respondents), India (36%) and Western Europe (43%), and yet of those HEIs anticipating such increases in these regions, only 55% currently have a formal IWA policy in place; a potential challenge for HR in maintaining control of IWAs and managing their effectiveness.

In our sessions at the UHR Conference, we will expand on the results from our survey, and share our insights as to how universities can evaluate the right approach for them, enhance or embed new processes to encourage mobility that supports this approach, and make international working a more attractive experience and a real differentiator when striving to attract and retain talent and ensure IWAs support their strategic objectives.

Your Contacts

Marie Green – Higher Education Global Mobility UK Lead

+44 (0)7841 954149

Gemma Buxton – HE GM, Scotland & North

+44 (0)7841 563185

Qing Miao – HE GM, London & London Regions

+44 (0)7841 786858

Louise Nicholls – HE GM, Midlands

+44 (0)7808 106635

Dan Perkins – HE GM, South

+44 (0)7740 968613

Laura Mee – HE GM, Wales & West

+44 (0)7715 211156

Clare Allen – HE GM, Policy

+44 (0)7483 324967

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