Increasing competition among research universities has spurred a race to recruit academic labor to staff research teams, graduate programs, and laboratories. Yet, often ignored is how such efforts entail negotiating a pervasive hierarchy of universities, where elite institutions in the West continue to attract the best students and researchers across the world. Based on qualitative interviews with 59 Singapore-based faculty, this paper demonstrates how migrant academics in competitive universities outside the West take on the burden of seeking other ways of attracting academic labor into their institutions, often resorting to ethnic and transnational ties to circumvent limits imposed by a hierarchical higher education landscape. Those unable to utilize these transnational strategies are less likely to maintain the pace of productivity expected by their institutions, heightening anxieties regarding tenure and promotion. In examining the Singapore case, this paper reveals the disjunctures between the increasing pressures of growing universities eager to compete in a global higher education system, and the everyday realities of academic production within these institutions.
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Institutional status and prestige also coincide with broader contextual factors such as a country’s immigration policies and treatment of foreigners. Individuals seek destinations that offer higher chances of residency status, easier labor market access for their family members, better living conditions, or cultural similarities (Cerna and Chou 2014; Kou et al. 2015). While much has changed in recent years, academic jobs in the US and UK are generally seen to offer higher chances of permanent residency as compared to emerging knowledge hubs in Asia and the Middle East (Barnett et al. 2016).
The Changing Academic Survey found that 76% of respondents were “embedded academics” or individuals who go through all major events in their life course within one country (Rostan and Hohle 2014: 81). Academics in this group are internationally mobile, but only spend short periods overseas as visiting scholars or researchers. In Singapore, a very small number of academics could be considered embedded academics. Aside from a large number of foreign academics, most Singaporean faculty also obtain their graduate degrees from universities in the US or UK (Wang, Hoo, Li and Chou 2019).
Our sample reflects a more even balance between gender and discipline. A related report on Singapore-based academics (including local Singaporeans) indicates that faculty in Singapore’s three main universities (NUS, NTU, and SMU) are 78% male and 22% female. A large proportion are in STEM fields (53%) while a smaller number are in the humanities and social sciences (21%) (Wang et al. 2017). This report did not have data on the different nationalities of migrant faculty in Singapore.
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This work was supported by the National Research Foundation, Singapore, under Grant SRIE 023. Any opinions, findings, conclusions and/or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Singapore National Research Foundation. The authors would like to acknowledge Gunjan Sondhi for her contributions in the development and implementation of qualitative interviews for this research project.
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Ortiga, Y.Y., Chou, M. & Wang, J. Competing for Academic Labor: Research and Recruitment Outside the Academic Center. Minerva (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11024-020-09412-7
- Academic mobility
- Higher education
- PhD students