Map of Europe. Credit: RAND Europe

Credit: RAND Europe

International mobility is important to researchers in industry as well as academia, although clear data is harder to access and mobility matters in different ways.

As part of our commissioned work on researcher mobility, RAND Europe have produced a new supplementary report to their earlier study on academia, summarising the findings of a workshop and interviews with representatives from research-intensive sectors in the UK. The report investigates the international mobility of researchers in industry, with a particular focus on the UK, to better understand the patterns, drivers, and barriers to mobility, and the benefits and consequences.

The ability of researchers to travel, collaborate, and access funding for their work is a key part of the research landscape. Researchers in academia and industry have long travelled internationally to access to a wider array of opportunities and expand their horizons, experiences, and expertise. This enables researchers to learn different methodologies and ways of working, to travel to conferences to present their work or learn from others, and to meet with research partners to discuss their work. These factors can facilitate career development and foster more diverse, effective research groups, which in turn increases the quality of scientific outputs, benefiting us all.

Following the UK’s vote to leave the European Union, the Society undertook a programme of research on the nature and value of this mobility, as part of its work to secure the best possible outcome for research and innovation. We found that gathering evidence on the international mobility of researchers in academia was much easier than on industry, so we commissioned this supplementary piece of work from RAND Europe to provide new insights on researcher mobility in industry.

Some of the key messages from the report are as follows:

  • There is a sizeable minority of research staff in UK industry that have overseas nationality, which varies between 10-50% in different companies. However, an evidence gap remains around the industry research workforce; companies do not use a common definition of ‘researcher’ or track the nationalities of their staff. We have a much better understanding of research mobility in academia, as set out in our previous reports;
  • Industry do not necessarily recruit researchers directly from overseas, but they do draw on the established international talent pool in UK universities. Research-intensive companies are concerned about the potential effect of Brexit on UK academia;
  • In academia, our previous commissioned survey found that there is a strong expectation for researchers to be internationally mobile as they develop their careers, but this sentiment was not broadly shared in industry. However, researchers might have travelled before taking up roles in industry;
  • International experience was thought to be particularly valuable in some contexts. For the pharmaceutical industry, a strong understanding of international contexts is seen as being particularly important. In multinational companies managers might move to gain experience in different settings. International staff can bring language skills or market and regulatory knowledge. Many start-up companies have a market footprint in multiple countries, so staff with international experience or willingness to travel can be particularly valuable. Staff may also need to make short trips, for example to travel to conferences;
  • The UK immigration system must facilitate the movement of talent to and from the UK in order to remain one of the best places in the world to do science and innovation. The UK is seen as an attractive destination for research staff. However, employers were concerned that candidates might not come to the UK at all if business or legal circumstances mean that their move can only be temporary;
  • Although companies are investing in the domestic talent pipeline, arrangements for retaining and attracting outstanding researchers from outside the UK remain important to ensuring that the UK has access to the next generation of talent. Without them, the performance of these companies and, in turn, the UK economy, might be affected;
  • Companies have not generally introduced measures to address concerns around mobility in the context of Brexit, largely as the situation remains uncertain. However, anecdotally they noted concerns about staff being less interested in jobs in the UK or looking for other opportunities, as well as a perceived decline in European applicants for job vacancies since the referendum.

This work is part of a wider package of research on international researcher mobility which demonstrates that having the freedom to move internationally and pursue collaborations in other countries is essential for good research and innovation. It includes:

If you would like to get in touch with us about our work in this area, please email: science.policy@royalsociety.org