The Importance of International Academics to University Strategies and How Best to Recruit Them

05 May 2024      Martin Higgs, AUDE Communications and Campaigns Manager

International faculty mobility is a key component of many universities’ internationalisation strategies, in tandem with international student mobility, curricular innovations, and international partnerships. In a Times Higher Education (THE) 2022 Leaders survey, 84% of university leaders surveyed indicated that they expect to hire more international academics over the next decade. Employing international faculty enables diverse international knowledge sharing and different cultural exposures, which can be integrated into the university experience for students.

Another aspect to consider is the importance of international faculty to a university’s rankings performance. THE’s World University Rankings assess research-intensive universities across five pillars designed to reflect their common core missions; these pillars – and the underlying metrics – include many metrics that could potentially be improved if universities expanded their recruitment of international academics.

For example, there is a metric which measures the proportion of a university’s publications with international co-authorship. International collaboration can also impact performance in other metrics, such as the highly weighted citations and research reputation metrics. The recruitment of international academics may help a university to expand and deepen its network of international collaborators by harnessing the academic’s networks of connections and collaborators. This is important because, as evidenced in a 2022 THE survey of 9,606 academics, the role of interpersonal relationships, trust and rapport were key among the factors that foster international research collaboration. On the flip side, when asked about the main barriers to initiating an international research collaboration, 46% cited a lack of in-person interactions as a major impediment, with 20% identifying this as the single most significant barrier.

Another example is “reputation”, which accounts for 33% of the overall weighted score. The data for the reputation metrics is captured from an annual survey of tens of thousands of published academics from around the globe. Although it is hard to decisively prove a link between a university having a more international staff profile and reputation, not least because the factors that inform reputation votes are multifaceted, we do see that the more geographically diverse a university’s recognition is – as measured by the number countries in which they receive at least one reputation vote – the higher the university will typically rank.

If we then consider the factors that inform votes in the reputation survey (as reported by academics casting votes in the survey), the most important factors are:

■ Formal publications (i.e. academics reviewing a university’s scholarly output and inferring research excellence from that)

■ Having a leadership position in the academic’s own speciality

■ Reputation for academic excellence

■ Interactions with academics or alumni from the university.

It seems reasonable to suggest that the broader a university’s global footprint of research collaborations and partnerships, the more opportunity there is to showcase and build understanding of the research excellence of the university’s academics, the excellence of its research facilities and general commitment to academic excellence.

So, with abundant potential benefits of hiring international academics, what can universities do to recruit the best talent from around the world? The 2022 survey of research-active academics included the question: if you were to consider moving to work at a new university, which of the following would be most important to you? Five factors were considered most important by over half of those surveyed:

■ Funding opportunities to conduct research (65%)

■ Location (62%)

■ Salary (62%)

■ The quality of research produced by the university’s academics (61%)

■ Having the desired split of teaching, research and administrative workload (55%)

These factors highlight the importance for hiring institutions to demonstrate how they will support and facilitate their newly recruited academics’ research interests both through funding and ensuring a balance between research, teaching and administrative responsibilities.

In July 2023, we conducted another survey of 1,403 academics who had recently registered as a jobseeker with THEunijobs (THEunijobs is a leading source of international university and academic jobs). We asked what support they would want to see from a university hiring from overseas. These were the most common responses:

■ Support with visa applications, including for family members (79%)

■ Assistance in finding housing / other accommodation (63%)

■ Financial assistance with the costs of moving abroad (49%)

■ Support with settling into a new country/culture (43%)

■ Support with accessing healthcare (40%)

Join THE’s Lewis Tuthill and Northumbria University’s chief people officer Jane Embley to further explore how universities can attract and support the best talent during the UHR Conference 2024.

This blog has been adapted from THE’s recent report International Talent and Hiring. To get a copy, visit the THE team at their booth during the conference.

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