22 SES 03 A, Internationalizing Higher Education: Academic engagement
The academic profession has undergone substantial changes. Today, seeking academic positions abroad is more commonplace and manageable (Altbach, Reisberg, & Rumbley, 2009). An academic’s choice to seek employment abroad may be fueled by a number of rationales such as limited positions at home (Ackers, 2008; Marginson & Van der Wende, 2007), personal preference or job vacancies (Cantwell, 2011). For universities, international staff members may be desired for the new perspectives they bring to teaching and research as well as their access to specific networks (Kim, 2009). In simple terms, academics are following the trends and demands of the labor market. However, despite this supposed ‘win-win’ situation for both academics and universities in reality finding academic work abroad can present major obstacles as hiring practices and the expectations of the search committee and candidate may be culturally bound (Morano Foadi, 2006; Musselin, 2004).
In studies on hiring success, there is a common agreement that job success is linked to ‘knowing the right people’ or in other words the strength of one’s network and associations. Various studies highlight the importance of social ties in hiring success estimating that nearly half of job seekers find their positions via personal ties (Corcoran, Datcher, & Duncan, 1980; Fernandez, Castilla, & Moore, 2000; Marsden & Gorman, 2001; McGuire, 2007; Neckerman & Fernandez, 2003). Within the literature on academic careers, studies similarly suggest that social ties may contribute to an individual’s hiring success; such as an individual’s association to well-situated persons in the field and links to prestigious institutions (Hadani, Coombes, Das, & Jalajas, 2012; Miller, Glick, & Cardinal, 2005; Morano Foadi, 2006) as well as knowledge of informal application expectations (Musselin, 2004). However, the majority of these studies examine hiring situations/job success in domestic settings, not taking academics who seek employment abroad into account. Thus we are unable to determine the role social ties play in international contexts. The absence of research on hiring success in international academic careers drives the research questions:
- How do international academics find jobs abroad?; and
- What role do social ties play in their hiring success?
This study qualitatively explores the hiring stories of international academics with the aim of investigating how they secure jobs abroad as well as furthering our understanding of nuances in both informal and formal aspects of hiring. This contribution offers practical insight for (1) academics to better understand and equip themselves for the international market and (2) for universities keen on recruiting international academics to be aware of best practices and (implicit or explicit) barriers in hiring that may favors local applicants over international ones.To understand the link between social ties and hiring success, this study employs Lin’s perspective on social capital to theoretically frame its inquiry (Lin, 1999a, 1999b). This perspective stems from social network theory and focuses on how social capital is used by individuals in situations such as job searches. According to Lin social capital is the “resources accessible through one’s direct or indirect ties”(Lin, 1999b, p. 468). In this sense, social capital serves different purposes for an individual during her job search; for example to facilitate information about job opportunities, exert influence on recruiters or the hiring committee, vouch for an applicant’s social credentials, expertise and reinforce their membership to a specific group. From this theoretical understanding, it is assumed that social capital may work differently for international and local academics: as academics may have access to networks and resources based on their prior training and career paths. This study seeks to investigate the presence of social capital and its transferability in international hiring contexts.
In this study, twelve international academics were interviewed about their hiring experiences. Interviewees were specifically selected to maximize comparability; all individuals held mid-level, tenured or tenure tracked positions in the disciplines of Arts & Humanities. This selection reflects the desire to investigate the experiences of staff members who are less established within academia than more senior academics and who are also characteristically a less mobile group than other academic groups such as post-docs or doctoral students (Bauder, 2015). The selection of academics from the disciplines of Arts & Humanities reflects an interest in investigating a group which is often overshadowed in the literature by research on mobility in natural sciences disciplines. The interviews were semi-structured and focused on three aspects of the hiring experience: (1) the pre-hiring e.g. hearing about the job; writing the application, (2) the hiring process e.g. the interview, guest lecture and (3) post-hiring e.g. personal reflections on employment success. Following the interviews, vignettes of each interviewee’s story were crafted and a network mapping technique employed to identify the characteristics of an interviewee’s social capital during the hiring process. The data was analyzed through content analysis (comparing patterns within the vignettes) as through a qualitative network analysis to compare the different conditions under which these academics secured jobs. This study was carried out with international academics holding positions in a Belgian (Flemish) university and an American university. The purpose of selecting interviewees from universities in different higher education systems was to identify how different approaches to internationalization may affect hiring experiences. The United States is often cited as a top mobility destination while Belgium (Flanders) has been slower in their internationalization efforts, e.g. in Flemish universities upwards of 70% of academic staff received their highest degree from the university where they are currently employed or from another Flemish university (ECOOM, 2016). In the United States, career mobility is accepted as a norm in academia with many universities having measures in place to prevent the hiring of their own recent graduates.
Preliminary findings indicate that hiring practices among international academics varied considerably. Within the American context, international academics followed two distinct career paths based on their doctorate degree origins. Individuals with doctorates from abroad shared ‘atypical’ hiring stories as well as had close social ties to their hiring university and instrumentally used these ties for assistance during the application process. While individuals with American doctorates had more distant social ties to the hiring university and relied on them to a much lesser extent. However, all international academics possessed ‘extra’ qualities such as unique expertise in a narrow field, connection to a prestigious foreign university, an impressive teaching resume or a well-established career, each quality served to legitimize their potential to the hiring institution. Within the Flemish context, the hiring process appeared to have no set standard regarding length, required documents or the interview process. However, three career paths emerged among the academics based on their level of experience. First, freshly minted PhDs relied more heavily on social ties in the hiring university and in some cases were ‘internal candidates’ in the sense that they had previously held a position at the university in another capacity before getting a professorship. The second group consisted of individuals with some experience within Europe post-PhD. These individuals had less direct social ties to the hiring university but were able to use these distant ties for advice during the application process. The third group had no connection to the hiring university however had doctorates from well-known U.S. institutions. These preliminary findings indicate that academic job success abroad is linked to various extents to an individual’s possession of social capital (social ties) and that this capital manifests differently across contexts however often serves as a legitimizing force for an applicant
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