UK third most attractive destination for academic researchers despite political uncertainty

In a landmark study of 10,000+ researchers, ResearchGate finds the UK retains its draw — whilst offering some of the highest salaries. Surprisingly, scientists in the UK are less willing to relocate abroad than their European peers.

London, 21st November 2019 – A new study of more than 10,000 international academic researchers by ResearchGate, a leading professional network for scientists and researchers, has found that the UK is the third-most attractive destination when relocating for an academic job. The United States and Canada were ranked as the most popular (65%) countries for relocation, followed by Germany/Austria/Switzerland (64%), with the UK only slightly trailing, appealing to 55% of respondents.

Globally, over 70% of respondents were open to moving abroad for the right academic research opportunity. However, researchers from the UK (54%) and the US (46%) demonstrated less interest in working abroad. This is significantly less interest than some of their Western European peers. For comparison, 67% of those from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, along with other Western European countries, reported willingness to relocate abroad for research work.

When asked what would most attract them to work abroad, salary (21%) and location (18%) were deciding factors, as well as whether the academic institution was a family-friendly employer (12%), by offering amenities like parental leave, onsite childcare, daycare stipend, or flexible hours. Interestingly, when asked what employment factors were the least important when deciding to apply for a new role, ease of getting a visa (16%) was ranked as the least significant consideration by international researchers. This suggests that despite the uncertainty caused by Brexit, international researchers still consider the UK a scientific powerhouse — which is supported by statements from the UK government that fast-track visas will be introduced to attract the world’s leading scientists. 

Mark Howard-Banks, Head of Scientific Recruitment Solutions at ResearchGate, says:

“Despite the negativity surrounding Brexit and consequent confusion around rights to work, it’s clear that the global scientific community still considers the UK as a potential homebase for conducting their research work. The UK remains at the forefront of scientific discovery, and international scientists still rightfully regard the UK as a leader in academic research. The UK’s recent 2019 Nobel Prize wins only highlight its continued prominence. The fact that getting a visa is one of the least important factors when deciding to apply for international academic position perhaps shows that, for scientists and researchers, the quality of the opportunity to conduct research in the UK far outweighs the logistics of moving there.”

The research also found that, generally, UK researchers are satisfied with their pay. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of respondents said they were content with their salaries, which was higher than the 64% overall satisfaction rating across all regions internationally. The bulk of UK researchers said they are paid $30-60,000 (43%). Over a fifth (22%) indicate that they earn $15-30,000, and 11% say they earn less than $15,000. These figures should, however, be considered in context, as 55% of UK respondents are at a Ph.D. or postdoctoral career level. The top 25% of UK academic researchers earn more than $90,000.

This was in contrast to Western Europe, where over half of researchers (57%) reported earning less than $30,000. Respondents in the US earned more, with over a fifth (21%) earning $60-90,000, and a further 10% sitting in the $90-120,000 bracket. Austria, Germany, and Switzerland were largely comparable to UK figures at the lower and higher ends. Internationally, 41% of respondents said they earned less than $15,000, with another 22% sitting in the $15-30,000 bracket.

Howard-Banks concludes:

“Compared to the private sector, academia is not known for high wages; but when you look at the pay disparity uncovered in our survey data, it’s no wonder that the UK, North America, and Germany retain their appeal as popular research destinations. This is reinforced by the OECD’s report, which ranks the US, Germany, and the UK as the three countries with the highest global output of PhD graduates. In a competitive talent landscape, academic institutions in the UK could in theory have their pick of the market. But, as a sector that traditionally recruits via word-of-mouth and career fairs, they would benefit from utilising new, digital recruitment tactics, lest they miss out on international research expertise. I’d urge institutions to take heed — whilst salary, for example, is predetermined according to one’s academic career level in the UK, there are other ways to appeal to researchers. Consider offering benefits that appeal to families, or the opportunity for one’s research to make an impact — academic institutions have the chance to attract the best and brightest if they can offer an attractive package for scientists and researchers.”

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Submitted on 21/11/2019