Understanding Researcher Mobility: Perspectives from Industry
The UK is an attractive place to work because of the quality and vibrancy of the research, according to findings from a roundtable discussion and individual interviews with representatives of private sector research organisations. However, the cost of living and the practical challenges in being able to work in the UK, such as being able to obtain visas, present barriers.
Britain's decision to leave the EU has led to concerns from industry around access to talent and staff retention. Brexit has also led to concerns around access to markets and EU funding for research.
RAND Europe recently published findings on the international mobility of researchers in the public sector. However, a significant proportion of the UK’s research workforce is based in the private sector. Despite the importance of this group in the research system in the UK, there is little evidence available, through existing data sets or in the literature, on the mobility of researchers in industry. It is not even clear how many international researchers are working for UK-based companies.
The UK’s decision in 2016 to leave the EU has raised questions about the potential impact on research-intensive companies and their research staff if international mobility becomes more difficult, and the measures that industry are putting in place to prepare for the opportunities and challenges to international recruitment following ‘Brexit.’
The Royal Society, the UK's national academy of science, commissioned RAND Europe to help develop a better understanding of the mobility of researchers in UK industry. The study also aimed to understand how companies are preparing for the UK’s forthcoming departure from the EU and the potential impact on their workforce.
The study held a half day roundtable with a number of representatives from industry. This was followed by a series of interviews to capture the viewpoints of those who were unable to attend the roundtable. The participants were industry representatives from a range of company sizes, from SMEs to large multinationals.
- Access to global talent was considered to a crucial consideration across all companies and sectors consulted in the study. This allows UK companies to fill skill gaps in the labour market and draw on skills from other markets when needed. International mobility also helps to facilitate cross-national working in companies with operations across many countries.
- The UK is an attractive place to work because of the quality and vibrancy of the research. However, barriers include the cost of living compared to wages and the practical challenges in being able to work in the UK, such as being able to obtain visas. Larger companies were considered to be better equipped to overcome this challenge rather than smaller companies.
- International mobility was generally considered to be more important for managers than research staff. However, the ability to move any member of staff across borders to offices and sites within an individual company was seen as useful for international companies.
- The decision to leave the EU has led to concerns from industry around access to talent and staff retention. Brexit has also led to concerns around access to markets and EU funding for research.
- The majority of companies have not yet introduced measures to address the concerns following Brexit. This is mainly because there still remains a great deal of uncertainty about the ability of companies to recruit and retain EU staff after the UK leaves the EU.
- Following Brexit, some companies have introduced apprenticeship programmes and discussed the possibility of training staff for specialised roles. However, building this domestic pipeline takes time and can be challenging, as it relies on knowing in advance what future skills will be required.
- Comparable and standardised data on the levels of mobility among the UK industry’s researchers is not readily available. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that non-UK staff are important to research-intensive companies and likely to make up a significant minority – in the region of 10 to 50 per cent of the research workforce.
- In the future, it will be important to continue engaging with UK industry and capture information relating to patterns of researcher mobility and different recruitment and retention strategies that UK companies are beginning to adopt.