The 2011/12 annual research project set out to investigate the most important factors in international academic job change and the role of reputation in this process.

Academics move to join a university for a number of motivations and many factors play a part in crystallising their choice of where to work. Salary, facilities, freedom of expression, the preferences of partners and family, language, legal limitations (e.g. visas), are all considered, but the hypothesis is that reputational factors (essentially, prestige perceptions) play a dominant part. The question is, how important is reputation in the job decision process? Reputation may come into play at the level of country or region, University brand, department, institute, research teams and most likely, the standing of the lead academic.

We interviewed 51 academics in 12 world ranked universities. The interviews were mainly conducted as confidential face to face discussions but with one or two telephone interviews where people were unable to meet. There were three times as many men as women. On average they had worked in three different countries. The youngest was 30 and the oldest 67. The most common age group was the 30s, with the 40s and 50s being evenly represented, and the 60s being much less well represented.

As well as the general interview, two exercises were also introduced where time allowed. We asked interviewees to rank various factors relating to career progression in order of importance and identify any missing factors that were important when changing jobs, and we also asked them to rank universities according to their own understanding of reputation. Ten universities were chosen because they ranked fairly consistently in the THE and SJT world rankings, and were separated by around 10 points in both. This allowed us to eliminate the ranking differences, and concentrate on comparing rankings and perceptions. We also introduced the academic’s own university, and asked them to place that in the ranking.

Academics were interviewed on the following topics:

  • Academic career patterns and trends. Experiences at other universities
  • Specifics of their latest recruitment activity and why they applied. Attractiveness of the university and the chosen place
  • Recruitment factors. Which were the most important and why?
  • Do academics define reputation in an HE context in terms of academic and research quality or wider organisational or employer characteristics?
  • Do academics use rankings? Which, and how? How do they rank universities themselves? Do personal rankings map published rankings?
  • Communications and international brand. How do academics explain their institutional brand? Do they think the university amplifies it well?
  • Next career move. What it would take for an academic to move on, and where they would like to move next

A few key findings

A key quality metric, global rankings play a role in shaping institutional reputation

The final version of the report from the research, Choice Factors in International Academic Job Change, was published in February 2012. Members of the W100 Network can access the report from the news and resources page, and members directly involved in the research can also download their individual reports here.

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