Covid-19 pandemic is changing the patterns of international researcher mobility, early findings reveal

Categories: News

Tags: Survey Covid-19

A quick update on EURAXESS’ survey status and first indicative findings

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In the beginning of September, EURAXESS announced its global survey exploring the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the work and mobility of researchers worldwide. Responses are still being gathered and analysed, but the study team has provided some initial observations and interesting trends for this edition of Researchers in motion newsletter.

The big news is that the number of responses from researchers all over the world has been huge. In just a few weeks, the team received around 1000 responses representing a cross-section of all relevant research fields, carer stages, types of research work, major global research hot spots and other characteristics. Over two-thirds of the respondents reported having experienced a research stay abroad – the majority of them for more than six months – so the survey provides good insight into the current perception of internationally oriented and mobile researchers.

Despite an overwhelming (90%) majority who confirmed that research stays abroad are a must for their research career, Covid-19 has left its mark on the minds and plans of internationally oriented researchers. Almost half of them have either cancelled or postponed their plans for research stays or feel unsure whether they should continue to pursue them. Yet, almost a quarter of respondents are still keen to apply for a research stay abroad in the next 18 months, despite Covid-19, and roughly another quarter is currently abroad or has already submitted an application.

This resilience, the study team notes, may stem from the perception of the vast majority of researchers that physical mobility, i.e. the personal experience of working and living in another country and research institute, cannot be replaced. Their view is that ‘virtual mobility’ can at best complement physical mobility or add some marginal value to it, but it can't replace it!

Pandemic-related travel restrictions are clearly the biggest obstacle for researchers seeking international mobility. But other factors, such as family situations (e.g. care for children or family members), concerns about potential foreign hosting institutions’ ability to accommodate guest researchers, and delays or cancellations in application procedures and/or funding of research stays abroad also seem to play an important role in decision making.

In addition, Covid-19 seems to have a considerable influence on preferred destinations, with over a third of respondents changing their priorities accordingly. Data collected so far indicate that host countries’ and institutions’ demonstrated ability to cope with the pandemic and offer safe and healthy working conditions may play a role in the current decisions on foreign research stay destinations. The study team will further explore the implications of this for countries and research institutions interested in hosting international researchers.

What will happen next?

With data still being collected and analysed, it is too soon to draw conclusions about possible solutions to help researchers interested in international mobility stay on track with their plans. Further announcements will be made when the findings are ready for dissemination. In the meantime, EURAXESS is preparing a plan of action to communicate the results to universities, research institutes, policymakers and agencies, and to help them forge a sustainable strategy for international researcher mobility in a world still governed by pandemic-induced restrictions.

Insights from the survey will thus inform dialogue among these stakeholder groups in the search for solutions to keep researchers internationally mobile for the sake of their research careers and international research.