The Pains and Gains of International University Recruitment

Over the past decade, higher education has truly become an international vocation.  Ease of mobility, improved and inexpensive communications and the attractiveness of overseas experience has meant that increasingly, academics see themselves as ‘global citizens’.  As a result, many spend parts of their careers in countries other than their place of birth. 

For Australian universities, the benefits of international appointments are well known and compelling.  Recruiting prominent academics from overseas can assist in increasing credibility or profile in a discipline or speciality and can often be an attraction for potential students and all important research funding.  It can result in benefits to other faculty members by exposing them to broader ideas, networks and cultural backgrounds.

There are however considerable challenges and risks involved in recruiting an overseas academic.  First of all, the mechanics of the recruitment process are more complex, and indeed more costly.  Interfacing with offshore candidates can be complicated and time consuming and despite the benefits of modern communication, it can be more difficult to get a genuine sense of personality and cultural fit.  Finally, the very fact that the candidate is distant can lengthen the time taken to recruit and increase the barriers to success.  These challenges suggest a search methodology is more likely to be successful rather than relying exclusively on advertising.

Once an offer has been made to an offshore candidate, the process is far from over.  Often such an appointment will necessitate the relocation of an entire family, and once faced with the reality of new schools, possibly the need for new employment for a partner and new housing; the result may be a candidate with ‘cold feet’.  The differences in the Australian remuneration structure may mean that what a candidate originally thought was comparable, no longer looks as attractive.  Finally, issues which include everything from the difficulty of moving pets to the relatively high cost of housing in Australia can prove to be significant hurdles.  With the high $AUD, relocating to Australia can appear even more expensive.

Based on our extensive international search experience, the likelihood of success is increased if the following points are borne in mind:

  1. Provide candidates with a comprehensive view of the role and how it fits within the university structure.
  2. Early in the process supply offshore candidates with as much information as possible about the city/region/state (most local/state governments have excellent websites for individuals who are considering relocation).
  3. Put them in touch with a good quality relocation agent – in our experience, these services are relatively inexpensive and well worth the cost.
  4. Identify a potential colleague(s) who has recently relocated to the University and put them in contact.
  5. Discuss with the candidate possible hurdles early (eg. family, housing, schooling, elderly parents, partner employment) rather than at the end of the process.
  6. Communicate regularly – it will help build the relationship and reduce the likelihood of ‘surprises’.
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