Careers in higher education often present opportunities to work abroad. Working overseas is often seen as an important factor in academic career progression. It can enable you to experience rich academic and cultural offerings, provide critical input for your research and it can also help you build lasting ties and collaborations. If you intend to venture abroad, here are some things to consider and tips on planning your move.
Higher Education Considerations:
1. The reputation of the institution you wish to join
The Times Higher Education’s World University rankings; QS World University Rankings and Shanghai Jiao Tong World Rankings offer useful information on higher education performance.
2. Higher education will be structured differently
Commonwealth universities have traditionally emphasised specialised, single subject degrees. In Asia, long hours are expected and are part of the work culture. Some institutions have a highly competitive “publish or perish” culture. Elsewhere, research activity is planned in a top-down manner. It’s worth learning how these factors will affect your career and whether you will be able to pursue your passion.
3. The vitality of the research environment
While research funding may be more readily available, in some countries, academic freedom is determined by the state, and higher education institutions abide by strict ethics codes and practice "institutional self-censorship". This in turn, limits academic research and impinges upon freedom of debate and discourse. As a result, you may need to adjust your expectations.
Planning your move:
4. Visa process
Employers often take care of this for you, but what about your dependents, particularly civil partners? Securing a visa can be a long drawn out affair so give yourself ample time by preparing the necessary documents and details months in advance.
Have you considered retirement planning? Will you need to take up private healthcare insurance and health insurance for your dependents? Will your employer cover your air tickets or offer a travel stipend and moving allowance? In addition, conferences are vital for networking – will you have to travel a long way to be at the best meetings? Will the university pay the conference fees and the travel expenses?
6. Finances matter
Rarely, are academics hired collectively as husband and wife teams or dual career couples. You may face the prospect that your spouse might go from full-time work, to working part-time. Your income will therefore be significantly reduced. Furthermore, while you may anticipate an equivalent level of salary, this may not be the case once you factor in the cost of living.
7. Your prospects
If you are relocating permanently, what are your prospects for promotion or tenure? In Spain, for example, Spanish is the language used at all universities - calls for applications and application forms use Spanish exclusively. While steps are being taken to internationalise Spanish universities, a well established network and inside knowledge are still important at these institutions and may create a barrier for foreign applicants.
“Working in Singapore opened my eyes to a different research culture, and it gave me a perspective that I wouldn’t have had, if I had stayed at one university,” says Dr Alastair Campbell Ritchie, Lecturer at the University of Nottingham. Having spent a decade at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Dr Ritchie relished the opportunity to teach graduate students in a top-tier programme at a leading university. The interaction with the local community also helped to broaden his research – “One of my students was Singapore’s champion sculler, which led on to both published research and the chance to meet David Beckham!”
Moving your academic career overseas can bring you many benefits, although there will be challenges to contend with. The experience of other cultures, and the opportunities to develop international links and collaborations, can be an invaluable addition to your career.