Debates concerning academic migration are an urgent issue in the UK that has continued for more than forty years. Migration produces a loss of talent abroad that is one of the major factors that affect science, technology, and engineering in the UK. Mostly, the public focuses on academic mobility from the country, considering it a ‘brain drain’ that damages the country’s science and economy. Academic migration to the UK overwhelmingly affects junior staff of British educational facilities; however, the number of academic migration at a senior level is not high. The experience of the recent years has proved that the UK experiences both gains and losses from academic migration. It is not extremely large comparing to overall migration, but it is rather significant for the development of science, depending on the intellectual capacity of migrants, their experience, and the time spent in the country. The majority of academic migrants who leave the UK usually make contracts for long-term posts abroad, while foreign scientists come for relatively short periods. The assessment of results of academic migration should be done on the basis of factual analysis of individual movements.

Historical Review of Academic Migration

Although many experienced scientists come to the UK, another big portion of PhDs leaves the country without having previous positions at home. The majority of them are leaving the UK to find employment in the USA. This tendency worries the UK government that is searching for ways to regulate this problem. However, the fact is that academic migration is an important issue that needs to be explored and resolved. Academic migrants from the Western world to the UK have a considerable impact on the higher educational system because they bring new ideas and share personal experience.

The Origin of Migration

The problem of migration is not new and it dates back to the distant past when Europe was shaped by people coming from abroad. Many studies assume that migrants seek to escape something that frightens them in their native countries (Ackers & Gill, 2008). For centuries, people have come to Europe to practice new trades and start a new life in England. In turn, a large amount of English people immigrated to colonies searching for wealth and new opportunities. Large-scale immigration to the UK is relatively recent and has been occurring since the 1960s (Allen & Blinder, 2013). People try to escape their native countries because of wars, unemployment, and other reasons. Thus, the number of foreign workers coming to the United Kingdom has increased tremendously, allowing foreigners to take working positions that usually are not suitable for local people. As a rule, foreigners work in less prestigious positions than the British, being engaged in low-paid occupations.

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After WWII, the nature of the UK immigration changed dramatically since the country has tightened its relationship with other European countries, which has resulted in the creation of the European Union (McEnery & Hardie, 2011). Furthermore, nations from former British colonies like Jamaica or India have progressively entered the UK in a search for a better life. Allen (2015) assumes that this trend has been strengthened by the British Nationality Act of 1948 that encouraged citizens of the Commonwealth countries to feel free to settle in the UK. However, the British government has noticed that the immigration flow has weakened the country and thus has issued several acts to limit immigration.

Nowadays, the number of immigrants to the UK continues to grow because of the laws that give permission to citizens from its former colonies to receive a relatively easy access to citizenship (CIPD, 2011). Primarily, immigration into the UK as well as into Western Europe was driven by labour needs. Thus, the number of immigrants continues to rise annually due to the permits issued to tens of thousands of foreign residents for family reunification. The statistics shows that in 2014 nearly 125,800 people received permits for permanent settlement in the United Kingdom (Ackers & Gill, 2008). The intention of people to migrate should be studied along with short- or long-term impacts on social and economic changes that are very small in the long-range perspective. It is widely believed that migration is costly for the government and it has become a popular theme in the media (Dustman & Frattini, 2014). However, the majority of the public believes that there are no benefits to immigration.

Migration Policy

Citizens of the UK and EU countries have the right to live and work in all member states. This policy gives a perfect opportunity to the academic staff to easily move to the UK without any restrictions. Initially, non-member countries could not enter the UK without a work permit; however, the migration policy has been changed to allow non-EEA migrants to enter the country in a variety of ways. Special attention has been given to high-skilled workers and highly educated individuals who could contribute to the UK economy and science. In 2010, migration policy was revised again with the aim to improve the quality of migration and reduce the amount of people who could be abused (Allen & Blinder, 2013). High-value migrants are considered to be people who possess exceptional talents and can be valuable for the country’s economy (Hallett, 2015). Furthermore, skilled workers can enter the UK in case they have prospective employers who are ready to sponsor them. Low-skilled workers are eligible to come to the country to work in certain sectors (Baker, 2006). Students also have the right to come and study in the United Kingdom. Finally, foreigners are allowed to come into the country for family reunification.

The employer must follow specific rules to employ a non-resident individual. The recent research asserts that the rise of migration observed at the end of the 20th century occurred because of the relaxation of immigration policy and migration inflows in 2012 and was shaped mainly by non-EU citizens that comprised 60 per cent of the UK immigration (Finney, Smith, Halfacree, & Walford, 2015). The largest amount of migrants consists of students (about 60 per cent) and workers (19 per cent), while the rest come to the UK to join their families (17 per cent) (Whitehead, 2015). A significant amount of foreign students is also associated with the growing number of academic migrants from the Western world who come to the country for better wages and new experience. Nowadays, the number of EU citizens is much higher than that of non-EU citizens and it is estimated respectively to be from 20 to 10 per cent (Whitehead, 2015)
It is important to realize that in spite of the migration policy immigrants occupy their position in accordance with subjective factors. For example, when immigrants complement the natives, the economic impact is relatively small, but when they substitute them, it is almost insignificant. Moreover, there is no evidence that immigration impacts unemployment rates. The fact of academic migration does not envision any benefits for the UK educational system because benefits are dynamic and arise from competition and not only from substitution or static comparative advantage. Therefore, there is a growing concern to research the value of migrants in terms of the quality of work based on professional skills and level of education.

Competing Policy Objectives

Academic migration like any other type of migration is determined by migration policies issued by the UK government that is responsible for delivering public services relating to international relations and ensuring compliance with the human rights law. A polarized highly charged public and media discourse provides a debate on policy options. However, the public opinion concerning academic migration is not as confronting as the one concerning common migration. A great part of the community understands the importance of new trends, ideas, and talents in science. Many findings reveal that academic staff is not always happy about involvement of foreign experts in the UK institutional affiliations because they are sure that newcomers impact jobs positions that are supposed to be the primary prerogative of the UK population, not foreigners (UK Border Agency, 2011). It is argued that the UK experience of migration is unremarkable in the international context, which concerns claims about the impact of migration on population growth. However, public attitudes are not as clear as they might seem.

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The government’s own Citizenship Survey has found that young people are less likely than the elders to be hostile to migration and more than 80 percent of the British population see their neighbourhoods as places where people of different races and nationalities can live together (Sigona, 2011). However, about 50 percent of the UK population considers that migrants reduce the number of jobs and bring down wages (Home Office, 2012). Moreover, migration is a freedom many UK people want for themselves: the freedom to study or work in the USA or Germany, retire in Canada, or bring home a soul mate they meet on the way. Employers frequently want the freedom to employ a brilliant scientist from France or Italy.

The UK citizens are free to work and live in other 26 European Union member states in return for the freedom of their citizens to live and work in the UK. Social, economic, and political effects of academic migration aim to attract the best and brightest people who can implement economic growth. While the central focus of the research is on the UK, its experience can only be understood in global and European contexts. The UK itself is not one nation, but four and it has policy differences between these nations.

The Concept of ‘Brain Drain’

The Historical Background of the Term ‘Brain Drain’

The term ‘brain drain’ first originated in 1950 and was given prominence in 1963. It means migration of well-educated and intelligent individuals who are searching for new opportunities or better pay in another country, causing human capital flight and making their native country lose the best ‘brains’. Therefore, these individuals are outstanding scientists who are leaving their native countries because their countries cannot give them better opportunities than those in the UK. A number of talented specialists from the Western Europe consider that the UK is the best place for implementing their knowledge and experience. For this reason, they study English and apply for a job in different universities and other educational institutions all over the UK. In turn, a lot of English university staff members leave the UK searching for better opportunities in other countries like the USA, China, Japan, or other countries. The research asserts that about 500 heads of departments have left the UK during the previous five years (Whitehead, 2015). The rate of intelligent emigration has increased dramatically over the last decade as compared to the previous decade and is estimated to be 12 percent of the total output (Finney et al., 2015).

Historically, the issue of ‘brain drain’ was recognized as a threat to the UK science. Only recently, this phenomenon has become recognized and many scholars have started to treat ‘brain drain’ as beneficial to the UK science since it brings new ideas and fresh scientific thinking. Moreover, the term ‘brain circulation’ has come into use in many countries along with the concept of ‘brain drain’. Every country should realize the importance of well-educated, intellectual, and scientific staff because its number is relatively small. Therefore, brain drain can be a threat to one state and a benefit for another. The UK appreciates involvement of high-skilled academic professionals in their institutional affiliations. When reviewing the economics of the ‘brain drain’ and skilled migration, it is important to indicate that, unfortunately, this phenomenon is not thoroughly researched and the data on the ‘brain drain’ remain incomplete. The 2012 data of Whitehead (2015) and Krastev (2015) indicate the many Western nations like the USA, Canada, Germany, and others have high immigration rates. The number of the Western nationals with the academic level is rather high in the UK.

Many studies assume that, in accordance with the Brain Drain Theory, the possibility of migration for higher wages induces more students in the sending country to pursue higher education (Goldin, Cameron, & Balarajan, 2012). Migration of professionals may inspire more young people to get educated in the UK. The movement of academic migrants is the most important practical means of transmitting information and technology. In order to obtain reliable statistics of academic migration to the UK, it is important to concentrate research on the UK universities that focus on an international labour market. In 2012-2013, a number of research-strong universities in the UK like Cambridge, Oxford, Durham, Warwick, and others were responsible for employing 31 percent of academic migrants from the Western Europe (Whitehead, 2015).

Immigration and Emigration

According to the analysis of the HESA data, in 2012-2013 there was an increase of academic immigration in the UK, which amounted to 1.6 academics arriving for every academic who had left the country; and the number of immigrants was about 2.8 percent, while the number of emigrants was 1.9 percent (Salt & Gander, 2015). Due to globalization, there is a tendency relating to increasing rates of both emigration and migration not only in the UK, but also in other countries. PhDs have shown great concern for migration as a means to implement their knowledge in different countries and earn better wages. As a rule, universities appreciate foreign staff because it can give a fresh insight into science and educational process. The international student audience prefers multinational teaching staff because they can share global experience in teaching different disciplines. Admittedly, migration usually affects the junior staff that is more mobile than the senior one. Moreover, the senior academic staff has better positions, while younger professors and scientists are searching for better positions that they hope to find in the UK.

The data on the brain drain represents human capital residing abroad versus the home country. It is clear that returned academic migrants feel big impacts on their careers at home since they have gained valuable experience in the UK. This gives a perfect opportunity for brain circulation due to experience they have received abroad. First of all, academic migrants make a great contribution to their future careers because knowledge and experience they gain in the UK are rather valuable in their home countries. A large number of academic migrants do not stay in the USA because they can move to other countries such as Canada. Higher educational institutions highly appreciate the bilingual or multilingual academic staff that is able to communicate in different languages. Many findings reveal that academic migration is influenced by people who are pursuing postdoctoral degrees and stay in the UK only for limited periods of time, while migration of this type does not affect the UK academic departments.

Furthermore, the number of academic migration at senior levels is rather low because senior professors and lecturers amount to approximately 1 percent of the estimated group (Finney et al., 2015). The survey of academics has revealed that mobility of academic staff is associated with high quality (Collier, 2013). It is clear that only energetic and innovative individuals are able to move into another country searching for new perspectives and opportunities. The facts indicate that 58 per cent of the Academy of Medical Sciences, 85 per cent of Fellows of the Royal Society, 61 per cent of the Academic Fellows of the Royal Academy of Engineering, and 74 per cent of Fellows of the British Academy have spent their time in foreign universities as postdoctoral fellows for a relatively short period of time (Salt & Gander, 2015). Migration of the academic staff in the UK is determined by the nature of scientific work that requires postdoctoral experience abroad.

According to the data, the UK immigration is higher than its emigration and the country loses more academic staff than it gains (Kirton & Greene, 2015). Actually, it happens because the UK loses academics at the beginning of their careers as it does not support them in building a research reputation. Postdoctoral staff that does not have publications in the UK has to move to other countries.

How Big is the Brain Drain in the UK?

The issue of ‘brain drain’ has worried the UK government over the recent years because high-skilled and well-educated individuals leave the country, while abandoning their places for low-skilled migrants. Kirton and Greene (2015) assume that although the rate of immigration is rather low (about 1 to 10), this tendency threatens the country because people can find better working opportunities abroad. For example, about 43 per cent of the UK graduates tend to stay abroad for the term of five years, while 11 per cent are planning to stay overseas for a longer period (Kirton & Greene, 2015). The top destinations include New York, Sidney, Melbourne, Los Angeles, and Beijing. One of the major reasons for this is a high living cost in the UK. Others leave the country because of disagreements with the UK politics.

The recent data have reported that graduates contribute to the economy ten times more than the government has spent to educate them (Finney et al., 2015). Therefore, this tendency may impede the UK economic growth. Moreover, many graduates leave the country because of their desire to travel around the world and build their careers while experiencing new cultures and gaining life experience. In turn, the report says: “The United Kingdom, especially London, does appear to attract students from other European countries and the Western World for its unique opportunities” (Bansak, ‎Simpson, & Zavodny, 2015). Therefore, migration is a two-way process that affects both countries: the one that loses and the other one that gains. Major world cities like London attract a lot of people who hope to find better life than in their home countries. Moreover, London has benefited from academic migration because it contributes to the development of science attracting brilliant minds to its universities. Obviously, it is a well-known fact that encourages foreign students to come to the UK to study in its prominent educational institutions.
Many findings show that the quality of academic staff that comes to the UK is higher than that of people who leave the country because they show a higher level of publications of their researches (Home Office, 2011). Therefore, academic immigrants have better opportunities than emigrants. This assumption proves that there is a qualitative gain in spite of the quantitative loss. There are personal and professional motives that drive people to migrate to the UK from the Western world. Perhaps, globalization and modern mobility are the main reasons to move to a new country, but there are still other personal reasons that drive people to work in the UK.

Affected Jobs

Academic Mobility

The rise in academic migration experienced in the UK over the last decades is widely believed to have had large effects on wages and labour market. There has been a rise in both the number of people coming to and leaving the country. Many findings reveal that the measured inflow has increased more than the measured outflow and it happens due to the expansion of the European Union (Achato, Eaton, & Jones, 2010). Academic immigration from the West is centred on research-strong universities that aim to retain and recruit the international staff in the labour market. In 2012, five institutions employed 35 per cent of academic immigrants, while another fourteen were responsible for recruiting 50 per cent of them (Bansak et al., 2015). Academic mobility in the UK higher education is determined by globalization that encourages academic professors to find new fields of research and investigations. The question of academic migration, its conditions, and its impact on intellectual traditions and types of scholarship remains unexamined. Changing Academic Profession (CAP) sheds some light on this problem, but further research is needed.

The UK institutions attract foreign academics due to numerous reasons. Thus, they offer high salaries and scholarships for extraordinarily talented individuals. Moreover, institutional affiliations are comparatively flexible and open for those who want to rely on the UK doctoral assistance. For example, a great number of US researchers choose the UK because it issues short-term academic visas and provides long-term visas for later career migration. Moreover, a large portion of the US academics remains employed in the UK during their entire careers. Academics from other Western countries like France, Italy, and the Czech Republic prefer to go back to their countries after receiving new experience in the UK. This tendency is explained by the fact that many academics cannot satisfy their demands domestically. Nowadays, a strong public demand for better higher education is very strong and it should be taken into consideration. The growing number of students is enrolled into PhDs programmes that require high-quality academic staff and the UK is one of the best places where they can improve their academic level.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England has found that in 2012 25 per cent of foreign academics worked in the UK higher institutions, while one of the US studies has reported that this number reached 38 per cent (Salt & Gander, 2015). Comparing to 2003, this number did not change and comprised 37 per cent of immigrants and 41 per cent of emigrants (Salt & Gander, 2015). However, a high amount of doctorates is obtained outside the UK, for example, in the USA that is the most common destination. In turn, the US junior academic staff often prefers to obtain PhDs in the United Kingdom. Modern diverse educational environment all over the world creates preconditions for cultural and educational exchange that benefits all stakeholders. Further investigation is needed in order to discover to what extent intellectual traditions of academic migrants from the Western world influence the UK higher education system.

The Impact of the West World Academic Migration on the UK Universities

The West world academic migration is concentrated in different disciplines that are associated with more attractive levels of grant funding. The leading disciplines for foreign academics are biological, mathematical, and physical sciences that are of the greatest concern for academic migrants (Matheson, 2010). Other disciplines are as follows: administrative, business, and social studies; engineering and technologies; medicine, dentistry, and health; and some others. For example, due to a reasonably high status of the nursing profession, attention of migrants may be drawn to medical disciplines, but this field has experienced a decline during the last years. Special grants have been established for foreigners to support them in the partnership work. Community and faculty partners believe that they would continue finding new types of projects on which to collaborate.

Most universities or similar institutions employ the lecturing staff on a contract basis that envisions an open-ended position (Cangiano, Shutes, Spencer & Leeson, 2009). In the UK, this position is usually available to junior academics at the beginning of their careers. On the contrary, in the United States the position of a lecturer is available to doctorate holders. Immigrants often occupy positions of temporary or part-time lecturers and, as well as natives, they are supposed to provide not only teaching, but also research. According to the UK educational system, senior lecturers are more oriented on teaching than research. However, recently this attitude has changed and a lecturer should provide a significant research in order to receive further promotion (Gutiérrez-Rodríguez, 2010). Academic migrants should be well aware of the UK high education system that may differ from their domestic one.

The UK serves as a magnet to many EU students like French, Italian, and Spanish students who wish to receive high-quality education. As a result, the number of EU students is higher than that of the British ones and comprises about 62 to 24 per cent (Travelmail Reporter , 2014). The Labour Force Survey shows that the Western migrants receive less in benefits than they pay in taxes (Price, 2007). Many studies reveal that the average age of migrants is about 26 and they are, as a rule, better educated than the UK youth (Spencer & Pobjoy, 2011). Most of them have Master’s degree, aspiring to receive PhDs and postdoc in the UK.

Although, the international staff brings reputational and economic benefits to the UK universities, many of them suffer from poor working conditions and low salaries. Most of them earn much less money than their native counterparts. While a foreigner may work for £6.18 an hour, their UK counterpart receives a starting salary of £37.756 an hour (Walters, n.d.). A foreigner may work without any guarantees, leave days, low job security, pension, and even without desk space. Collier (2013) assumes that many PhD holders work as fixed-term, part-time, non-standard, temporary, or any other contingent faculty. Oftentimes, after finishing postdoctoral studies in the UK academic migrants face difficulties with finding a decent job in universities, especially full-time employment. Thus, they can take a Master’s seminar in one place, an undergraduate tutorial in another place, or any other work they can get. In fact, early career academics show a great concern in surveys and reports on mobility. Furthermore, international academic staff improves their experience and knowledge obtained earlier. However, the research asserts that foreign postdocs work less than their domestic counterparts and provide more published scientific researches (Spencer & Pobjoy, 2011).

According to Moriarty (2011), international academic mobility can be both challenging and beneficial for the postdoc staff and many of them wish to return to their home countries (p.122). Many of them cannot accept inequity between domestic workers and foreigners in the workplace. The absence of benefits is one of the major reasons for their dissatisfaction. However, it is believed that different categories of academics may experience different benefits in accordance with the number of staff members and their proficiency (Ritzer, 2011). Foreigners may have very different characteristics, for example, those who do not have previous employment may lack various benefits. Herfs (2014) believes that to prove to the department that they are talented professionals, they should provide publications in the UK. Generally, the foreign staff should be characterized in accordance with fifteen categories that can give a more detailed picture.

Migrants’ Academic Occupation

The number of recent migrant workers (RMW) from the EU zone has slightly declined due to the recent crisis. The analysis shows that despite the decline in numbers high-quality professionals continue to come to the UK universities like Oxford, Cambridge, and Durham. Many findings reveal that major occupation groups include junior and senior lecturers, professors, researchers, managers, and senior officials. In many educational facilities, academic migrants occupy these positions, thus reducing the number of jobs available for locals. Sometimes, academic migrants are employed as directors, managers, or senior officials. The most common positions for immigrants are in the following fields of study: Mathematics, Mechanical Engineering, Electrical & Electronic Engineering, Business & Management Studies, Civil Engineering, Medical Technology, and Medicine. Universities offer great opportunities for foreign academic professionals, especially after the introduction of an open-door immigration policy developed by Tony Blair in 1997 (Herfs, 2014).

Many scholars recognise that academic migration from the Western world to the UK will rise in the following years as the country provides perfect opportunities for foreigners to receive new experience and gain reputation in their domestic countries (Walters, n.d.). In turn, the UK academics will also prefer to go abroad for their scientific research. It will occur due to the competition of high quality researchers that can obtain high-quality recruitment practice in the UK universities and similar establishments. Therefore, academic migration helps the best academics provide research from different perspectives.

The recent experience has proved that the UK experiences both gains and losses from academic migration. It is not extremely large comparing to overall migration, but it is rather significant for the development of science, depending on the intellectual capacity of migrants, their experience, and the time spent in the country. Therefore, academic migration is beneficial to the UK and its higher education system. Moreover, it helps improve the national educational system.


Academic migrants from the Western world to the UK have a great impact on the British science and receive many benefits in return. Today’s diverse academic environment creates competitive relationships between professors who want to share their knowledge and experience with others. Social, economic, and political effects of academic migration aim to attract the best and brightest people who can contribute to the economic growth. Oftentimes, migration of well-educated and intelligent individuals results in human capital flight and loss of the best ‘brains’. However, the majority of the UK community understands the importance of new trends, ideas, and talents in science and the public opinion concerning academic migration is not as confronting as that concernin common migration. Academic migration does not envision any benefits for the UK educational system because benefits arise from competition and not only from substitution or static comparative advantage. Therefore, there is a growing concern to research the value of migrants in terms of the quality of work based on their professional skills and level of education. Although not all scholars welcome foreign academics, most of them understand their value and contribution they can make to the science.

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