Researchers from Asia and Africa disproportionately face obstacles to international mobility, according to a survey that highlights the benefits of working overseas.
A survey of 2,465 researchers from 109 countries, conducted by a global coalition of scientific organisations, found that more than three-quarters of respondents (76 per cent) had moved to another country for research purposes. Nearly half (48 per cent) had lived in abroad for longer than a year at a time.
Nearly all respondents (96 per cent) to the survey agreed that working in other countries for research was beneficial, citing benefits such as forming new collaborations, developing new ideas or performing experiments.
But the study, published on 18 September by Together Science Can, which is led by the Wellcome Trust and international partners, highlight that these benefits are not equally shared.
African researchers were most likely to cite a lack of funds for travel costs or conference fees as an obstacle to mobility: 75 per cent of these respondents mentioned these, compared with 53 per cent of Europeans.
Asian and African researchers were at least three times more likely to report visa-related obstacles to visiting other countries for research than their European or North American counterparts: 40 per cent of Asian respondents and 34 per cent of African nationals reported problems, compared with 9 per cent of Europeans and North Americans.
The impact of these obstacles was revealed in a question that asked researchers how often they travelled for research: African and Asian respondents were most likely to report that they went overseas very rarely, while Europeans emerged as a particularly mobile and connected research community. African researchers were also the least likely to report beneficial outcomes from working abroad.
Even researchers from regions associated with greater mobility expressed concerns about the impact of political developments on their ability to work overseas. European researchers expressed concern about the impact of Brexit, while scientists in the US were worried about attitudes to international movement under the Trump administration.
The report recommends that funding for mobility should be tailored to the needs of researchers in different regions, and greater support for Asian and African researchers to gain visas, particularly for short-term travel.
“The international movement of researchers enables ideas to spread, collaborations to form and new perspectives to be gained, and a large proportion of researchers do not face obstacles to travel or relocation abroad,” the report concludes. “The benefits of international movement are felt by all, but obstacles to movement are currently felt disproportionately by some.
“Widening the accessibility of international movement would help research to flourish and strengthen research systems.”