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‘Citizens of Somewhere’

12 December 2018

The article at a glance

Foreign-born academics in Britain are actively engaged in both the UK and internationally, contributing greatly to UK society, says a new study …

Foreign-born academics in Britain are actively engaged in both the UK and internationally, contributing greatly to UK society, says a new study of 14,000 academics co-authored at Cambridge Judge Business School.

Citizens of Somewhere

British Prime Minister Theresa May famously said that some international elites are a “citizen of nowhere”, but a new academic study concludes that foreign-born academics working in Britain are highly engaged in both UK and international activities such as joint research, networking providing informal advice.

The study of more than 14,000 UK academics finds that while foreign-born academics are relatively more engaged internationally than their UK-born counterparts, the absolute participation of foreign-born UK academics is greater in UK-based (“intranational”) activities.

The study just published in the journal Research Policy also finds that any differences in local engagement by UK-born and foreign-born academics “tend to fade out” as the foreign-born academics spend more time in the UK, while the foreign-born still keep their international engagement “premium”.

“This suggests with sufficient experience in the domestic context, foreign-born academics will demonstrate the same degree of ‘citizenship’ in terms of local engagement as their native-born colleagues,” the study concludes. “Foreign-born academics often exhibit both high levels of intranational and international engagement, contrary to any suggestion that they are ‘citizens of nowhere’ in their professional roles.”

The study, based on a final sample of 14,574 academics from 151 UK universities, asked respondents about 27 different channels of engagement including public and non-governmental organisations, joint research with external organisations, and consultancy services. About 35 per cent of the respondents were born outside the UK.

Michael Kitson

“Our analysis shows the important role foreign-born academics not only bring in terms of research and teaching expertise but also their engagement in global networks of knowledge both inside the UK and abroad,” says study co-author Michael Kitson, University Senior Lecturer in International Macroeconomics at Cambridge Judge Business School.

“A major concern is that the dark politics of immigration and the uncertainty surrounding Brexit is causing severe uncertainty among international talent in our universities. The study shows clearly the vital contribution made by foreign-born UK academics – both directly to UK society and in opening up global networks for all UK academics, wherever born.”

More than half the papers published by UK-based academics in 2013 had an international co-author, and 30 per cent of academic staff at UK universities are non-UK nationals.

The study – entitled “Citizens of somewhere: examining the geography of foreign and native-born academics’ engagement with external actors” – is co-authored by Dr Cornelia Lawson and Professor Ammon Salter of the University of Bath School of Management, Professor Alan Hughes of Imperial College Business School, and Michael Kitson of Cambridge Judge Business School.