Back to the future? Researcher mobility in the region after COVID-19
COVID-19 has dramatically changed our mobility patterns. European mobility programmes such as COST have introduced “virtual mobility grants” and several projects under bilateral programmes, ERASMUS +, Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) or CEEPUS (Central European Exchange Programme for University Studies) have been delayed. Some researchers are able to work from home, literally meaning also to be able to work from their home countries.
Nevertheless, “brain circulation” is still a difficult endeavour. Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo*, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia are included in the above mentioned European programmes and a recent study by Klaus Schuch from Centre of Social Innovation analysed the respective mobility patterns (Schuch, 2021). Although he points out a lack of data available from several programmes, he is able to conclude that the participation figures point to a lack of network management capacities and weak integration in international cooperation, demonstrated e.g. through the fact that partners from the WB hardly take coordinator or leadership positions and that the balance between inward and outward mobility is still typically negative.
The figures also point to a current focus in the wider geographical region of Southeast Europe. For example, the top receiving countries within ERASMUS+ for outgoing mobility from North Macedonia are Turkey, Croatia and Bulgaria; incoming mobility in MSCA is also mostly from the wider neighborhood. Structural problems such as lack of adequate employment opportunities when returning to the region, low salaries, lack of adequate support structures such as research support or technology transfer units and incentives are among the problems for mobile researchers.
In any case, the analysis shows that fellowships and possibilities to do research in another country are available, sometimes also with support provided for a return phase. But next to geographical mobility, it is important to also emphasise intersectoral mobility. Yet, structural programmes for mobility from academia to industry but also from academia to the public sector are hardly available. Some researchers might have part-time jobs in industry or run their own company on the side, but a structured support for short-term structured placements of researchers in industry or also in ministries or municipalities, can help to increase the practical relevance and impact of research, when the researchers return to their academic institutions. This form of mobility takes usually place in a localised way and not on a regional scale.
Schemes to support a combination in the frame of intersectoral regional cooperation could be further explored, such “mobility” could also take the form of short term visits, e.g. funded by innovation vouchers or similar. Upcoming projects and initiatives should thus experiment, after the pandemic restrictions are lifted, with pilots related to regional cooperation schemes on mobility and intersectoral cooperation.
The report is available at https://repository.fteval.at/575/1/fteval_J52_10.22163_fteval.2021.516.pdf (Schuch, Klaus (2021): Patterns of Geographical Mobility of Researchers from Six Western Balkan Countries in Regional and European Mobility Based Training Programmes), enjoy reading!
Elke is a senior expert on science and innovation policy, internationalisation and science diplomacy. She joined ZSI in 2003 and has been representing ZSI in Brussels since February 2018. Between 2007 and 2016 she was Head of Unit “Research Policy and Development” and Board Member at ZSI. From October 2016 to February 2018, she acted as Policy Officer with a focus on Stakeholder Engagement at the COST Administration.