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American academics on the move – in theory

The Chronicle of Higher Education carried out a large-scale survey of several thousand American university administrators and faculty members to explore American academics’ willingness to work outside of the US. A vast majority reported interest in employment abroad – in theory. The four most popular destinations in which US academics would like to work are the UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, followed by Germany, which is the first choice among places where English is not an official national language.

“In theory”, because this is only one side of the medal. While a majority of those responding to the survey said they had or would consider working at a foreign university, less than 20 percent of those who expressed interest were actively seeking employment abroad, and only 9 percent have ever held a foreign university job for more than one year. What is even more worrying is that about 50 percent said they would not even know how to go about seeking employment outside the US.
Why this discrepancy? Almost every respondent held a valid passport, more than 50 percent had even travelled outside the US in the past year… The answer is multi-faceted. Personal reasons for going abroad (immersion in a foreign culture, etc.) still outweigh professional ones (unique research opportunities, better salaries, etc.). At the same time, personal reasons are also the chief concern (language skills, isolation from family and friends, costs, etc.) for those staying at home, possibly coupled with the traditional notion that an academic career “by the book” does not include an international work experience. Observers agree that this attitude is slowly changing.

The Chronicle