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A review of the literature

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Research Questions

  1. What are the patterns of international mobility for researchers, in academia and industry?
  2. What are the drivers and barriers of international researcher mobility?
  3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of international research mobility — for researchers, institutions, countries and the research system as a whole?

RAND Europe has been commissioned by the Royal Society to investigate the international mobility of researchers, with a particular focus on the UK. This work consists of two strands: a review of the existing literature and a survey of researchers currently based in the UK. This report details the findings of the survey, conducted in March 2017, which provides an up-to-date picture of patterns, drivers and barriers, and perceived outcomes of mobility amongst the current UK academic research workforce. It also aims to address some of the gaps in the existing evidence, particularly around the role of personal motivations, and the interplay of experiences, personal and professional circumstances, motivations and outcomes.

Key Findings

We received and analysed 1,285 responses, and identified the following key findings reflecting on the survey data in the light of the wider literature:

  • Most mobility to and from the UK is with a small set of western countries, and the US and Germany in particular.
  • Patterns of mobility differ by gender, discipline, nationality and career stage.
  • Professional motivations are the main drivers of mobility.
  • Researchers stay in the UK — and return to the UK — for a mix of personal and professional reasons.
  • Barriers to mobility depend on individual circumstances.
  • Benefits and disadvantages of mobility tend to align with motivations.
  • Most researchers feel that there is an expectation that good researchers are internationally mobile.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter One


  • Chapter Two

    Where and how do researchers move? Patterns of mobility of researchers currently based in the UK

  • Chapter Three

    Why do people decide to stay or move? Barriers and drivers influencing mobility decisions

  • Chapter Four

    What impact does mobility have on researchers' lives? Perceived outcomes of mobility at a professional and personal level

  • Chapter Five


  • Appendix A


  • Appendix B

    Respondent profile and characteristics

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was commissioned by the Royal Society and conducted by RAND Europe.

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