Covid-19 and Researcher Mobility in a Changing World

Categories: News

Tags: COVID 19 survey

Bright news on the international vaccine research front is cast against continuing uncertainty for international researchers in general. Will they soon be able to get on with plans to study and work abroad? New findings published this month in a EURAXESS Worldwide study suggests it takes more than a pandemic to put them off.

The world is breathing a sigh of relief at the news that international teams of scientists have developed, trialled and will soon gain approval to start distributing novel vaccines against the Covid-19 virus. There is hope that the massive disruption the pandemic has caused to lives everywhere will come to an end by Spring 2021 or earlier. But for international researchers whose plans to study and work abroad have been in a state of suspended animation, there is a sense that even that will not be soon enough.

The EURAXESS Worldwide study published on 26 November, called ‘Researcher mobility in a changing world’, casts fresh light on how international researchers have been coping during Covid times, and what impact it has on their ability and willingness to pursue research and studies abroad.

It is clear from the study that they are largely undeterred in their plans to carry on with a stint abroad as soon as conditions open up. Over 85% of the nearly 1224 researchers surveyed said that international mobility was a “must” or “very helpful” as a career building block and the vast majority (75%) said their preferred destination remains unchanged.

Despite the many varied Covid-19 restrictions facing international researchers, very few have completely dropped their plans to further their research and career abroad. Most want to carry on even if it means potentially long delays, and Europe has become more attractive as a host destination, compared with pre-pandemic conditions.

All regions of the world are represented in the study, but the highest share of responses came from Europe, and in particular the Slovak Republic, Italy, Germany and Denmark (n=126, 115, 73 and 55 respectively). Outside Europe, India (85) and Vietnam (51) returned the most completed surveys.

A quarter of the respondents’ nationalities does not correspond with where they list as their work location. “Obviously this means they are currently not working respondents with at least one previous research stay abroad, again Europe was the most popular destination, followed by North America.”

According to the study team, a large majority of the respondents say their motives for international mobility involve the pursuit of long-term career objectives in academic research. In fact, the vast majority of responses were provided by researchers from universities and research institutes and their long-term career objectives not surprisingly orientate around “academic research”. More than half listed their age as between 20 and 35, which is a strong correlation to earlier career stages and over 78% possess a Master’s degree or below.


Towards EU-centric mobility

Chapter 3 of the study report drills down to possible avenues for improving EU-centric mobility in the context of Covid-19. These include reinforcing the financial and political commitment to tackling the pandemic and, presumably, others like it, which the EU Recovery Plan and dedicated Covid-19 ERA Research Calls under Horizon 2020 as well as the ERAvsCovid Action Plan’s ten priorities all clearly seek to achieve.

An unequivocable outcome of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a majority of researchers is that they expect “profound changes” in how their work will be organised in the future and what conditions they will need to succeed.