By Shola Adenekan
Frustrated by a gloomy job market in the UK, Graham Priest moved to the University of Western Australia in Perth, shortly after completing his PhD programme.
"I went because I couldn't get a permanent job," he says. "There was no culture shock but the lifestyle is different. I was surprised that although they speak English, there are different expectations from the UK. Australians are more laid-back and the society is more of an informal setting than Britain."
After the first few years, he tried to return to Britain but with no job prospect, he decided to remain in Australia and soon became fully adjusted.
Moving to Australia has paid off for Priest; he is now a distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of Melbourne and has successfully raised a family.
Prof Priest moved overseas 33 years ago in 1976. Like now, Britain was facing economic downturn with a bleak job market in the university sector. He acknowledges that things may not be plain sailing for academics who want to move abroad now despite the fact that communication is a lot easier than in the 1970s.
"There is a lot of bureaucracy now and tighter immigration controls. I think many countries are tightening up immigration rules."
While there are no specific yearly figures on the number of academics who leave their home countries for pastures new, the unpredictable job market in many western nations means that the number of academics, especially new PhDs wanting to teach abroad, is likely to increase. Permanent positions may be hard to come by in Europe and North America due to the current financial climate, but many countries in Africa and Asia are looking for academics, especially PhDs.
Think before you move
Prof Priest advises that instead of leaving in a hurry, academics should consider taking a period of leave to travel around their target country.
"Yes, it's very hard finding a full-time academic position," he says. " But you need to consider what it takes to find a job abroad or whether you should stay where you are now. Any change will cause disruption."
Prof Priest warns it is very easy to feel academically isolated in a foreign land.
"Back then, I had a young family who also had to acclimatise as they had to build their own lives from scratch," he says. " Most academics adjust very well but you need to think about your family, especially if you have kids who are still in school. The fact that you're changing countries magnifies the problems, so you need to talk to your partner about your decision."
Cost of Moving
It is also advisable for academics to check if their prospective employers will cover the cost of relocation to and from the host country.
Shona Farrall, founder of the Expat Network, which runs a magazine and website for people working abroad, says that if you are offered a job overseas, you must have a thorough look at the terms of your contract before you travel.
She stresses that there are a few key points to consider when signing a contract.
"Fortunately, most expatriates have been on the circuit long enough to know them, but those who have recently become expatriates or those looking to become one may need a gentle reminder on things to check before signing a contract," she says. "These include employment terms, accommodation, healthcare, transport, single/married status, leave and holiday entitlement, working offshore, relocation, salaries, local taxes and cost of living, escape clause, and signing the contract."
Many countries do not recognise foreign lecturers as being of equal status to those who are homegrown. And as lecturers are often civil servants, permanent jobs are only very rarely given to foreigners. For example, a permanent post in an Italian or French university is a tenured state job. Once you're in, it is very difficult to get rid of you. This makes it fairly natural for institutions to tend towards hiring people they know, given that they will probably be stuck with them. If you are looking to move to a country with a similar approach to recruitment, you need to be prepared to work on a contract for quite a while. Universities in Canada and the United States also follow the tenure system, but these two countries have a long tradition of hiring foreign academics.
If you are lucky enough to be offered a tenured post, always seek the going-rate and don't sell yourself short. Also, check local tax status and how this may affect you in both your new and home countries.
Erasmus may be the best option for academics in the UK and the EU who just want a short break rather than a long sojourn in a foreign land. This scheme offers academics and administrative staff the chance to teach or work in one of the 30 other participating countries in Europe for a few weeks. Academics on an Erasmus exchange usually spend a week in another country and about eight hours of this time is spent teaching. Competence in the language of the host nation is helpful in liaising with colleagues overseas. Participants get first-hand experience of how other higher education institutions across Europe operate, and in the process have the chance to learn new ideas and exchange best practices, develop their international networks and improve their language skills.
Colin Keenan, a senior lecturer and course leader in social care at Aberdeen's Robert Gordon University started taking advantage of the Erasmus programme ten years ago and was keen to learn about different approaches to both social work practice and training students in Antwerp, Belgium. He usually goes for five to six days at a time and over the years he has been involved in teaching, student placement support, meetings, involvement in intensive study programmes and much more.
His Erasmus experience has taught him methods and approaches to practice that challenge UK orthodoxies, which then benefits his students. It has also allowed him to bring in new concepts to enhance course content in his home institution. Mr. Keenan strongly believes that as well as benefiting his institution it has been a huge benefit to him personally and professionally, by providing fresh ideas, valid alternatives and a much more European perspective. "I think it has given me a broader and more critical capacity to appraise professional practice here because I now know of effective alternatives. I think also now that I'm near retirement it has helped to keep my outlook fresh and positive. I honestly feel it has been life enhancing," he says.
- The Expat Network (http://www.expatnetwork.com/)
- British Council (http://www.britishcouncil.org/new/)
- Directory of foreign embassies in the UK (http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/)
- Europa World of Learning (http://www.worldoflearning.com/public/views/subscribe.html)
- European Union national mobility centres (http://europa.eu/)
- Association of Graduate Careers Advisory Services (http://www.agcas.org.uk/)