UKRI launch evidence report on global mobility

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I am thrilled that today UKRI publishes the first-ever report consolidating evidence on the importance and impact of international mobility for the R&D system.

We know that attracting, retaining, and developing talented people is key for a thriving research and development (R&D) system. Both domestic and international talent are vital for the health of the whole UK system.

UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) engaged with upwards of 40 organisations across government and the R&D sector to develop this report, centralising a wide range of existing evidence on international mobility.

The report marks another milestone in delivering against the government’s R&D People and Culture strategy. It provides a shared evidence base for the sector to make informed decisions in a complex policy area. Through concisely demonstrating the impacts and trends of global mobility, it provides pointers for the continued development of the UK’s strategies to attract and collaborate with international researchers.

Why this is important for the R&D community and the UK

Staying faithful to UKRI’s evidence-based approach, this report is designed to act as a trusted and consistent reference for policy development. It highlights the areas in which we have robust evidence, such as the criticality of international mobility and collaboration for a healthy R&D system, and others where the information is limited or does not exist, such as the international mobility of researchers working in industry. This clarity enables us to steer future evidence-gathering exercises to reduce these gaps.

Ultimately, this evidence report will improve the efficiency and confidence with which UKRI and the R&D community are able to work together to develop policy to make the UK a top destination for talented people and teams.

The report will be updated and published annually, offering a continually refreshed and consolidated evidence source on the international mobility of researchers.

Key findings of the report

The report is based on the key findings of collated evidence sources on the international mobility of researchers, especially in relation to their entry to the UK, published between 2010 and 2021.

As well as providing a synopsis of what makes the UK attractive and the impact of international mobility and collaborations, the report explores areas for future research and limitations of the evidence base.

As expected, the impact and importance of international mobility is evident throughout the report. It’s clear the UK’s research system is renowned for its strong collaboration and excels in attracting international researchers.

Researchers report positively on their experiences of international mobility. Benefits include:

  • developing advanced research skills
  • gaining international networks
  • building more interdisciplinary collaborations.

The UK government has to date implemented successful interventions to facilitate and support the movement of researchers to the UK, through specialist long and short-term mobility mechanisms. These include the Global Talent visa, delivered by UKRI and the UK’s National Academies, and a UKRI-led scheme which facilitates short-term mobility for researchers working in the UK’s independent and public sector research organisations.

The government has also launched a new international talent site to promote and facilitate the mobility of research and innovation experts to the UK, in which UKRI plays a vital role. This is another key step in delivering the ambitions of the government’s R&D People and Culture strategy to attract and retain people with the right skills, across all roles.

However we cannot rest; the UK must maintain a competitive talent offer to remain an attractive location for researchers and specialists. As a sector we must reduce the gaps in evidence and continue to drive forward policy. Current evidence gaps include:

  • the diversity of globally mobile researchers
  • researchers working in industry
  • measuring the value of global mobility more holistically, beyond traditional measures of academic output.

Of course, this report comes at a time of uncertainty as we wait to understand the full impact of the UK’s exit from the EU on researcher mobility. We will review evidence on the impact of decisions related to Horizon Europe and what they mean for international researcher mobility in future iterations of this report.

I would encourage anyone looking for a synopsis of the current state of evidence on the international mobility of researchers to read this report.

We will introduce new evidence to refresh this report annually. To support us in shaping future iterations of the report we welcome your feedback and submissions of new evidence.

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