Our research in 2011/12 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 for international academics? 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 who had, on average, worked in three different countries.

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Choice Factors in International Academic Job Change Research 2011/12: Executive Summary

The interviews were semi-structured along the following lines:

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

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.


We asked the interviewees 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.