Eastern Europe draws ‘dart-throw’ academics from overseas

Study finds that overseas scholars in former communist countries work there not out of deliberate choice but often due to ‘happenstance’, love or to escape poor job prospects at home

December 8, 2019
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Take aim “dart throw” academics are ready to go anywhere in the world

The “vast majority” of foreign-born academics working in some eastern European countries end up there because of factors beyond their control and had no special interest in the countries before arriving, according to a new study.

Interviews with 140 scholars in Poland and Slovakia found that they were instead drawn to the countries by love, an unexpected job offer or to escape poor career prospects in their home countries.

Rather than enjoying the smooth, carefully planned, upwardly mobile career of the idealised academic, around a quarter of the academics interviewed said that they had taken academic positions in these countries due to “happenstance”, “coincidence”, “luck” or “blind chance”, despite low wages and the fact that they are on the “semi-periphery” of global academia.

Study author Kamil Luczaj, an assistant professor at the University of Information Technology and Management in Rzeszow, Poland, christens these scholars as “dart throw” academics – ready to go anywhere in the world.

One interviewee, “Alan”, a graduate of a North American university, failed to find a good academic position at home, with only temporary, teaching-heavy contracts on offer. As a result, he was willing to relocate “pretty much anywhere”.

“When I first got the job, and I realised I didn’t know where Bratislava was...I started on Google Maps, and when I realised where it was, I just started laughing,” he said in his interview.

Academics such as Alan are caught in a “passion trap”, where their careers are a major source of “passion” and “pleasure”, meaning that they would “accept any academic post that would allow them to combine teaching duties with research”, according to the paper in the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management.

Other interviewees were drawn to the countries because they offered a “once-in-a-lifetime chance” to get a “prestigious academic position” rather than a “middle-class or even lower-middle-class job in the country of origin”. Some interviewees had little in the way of an academic background – one was a clerk in a transportation company, another a journalist – but found it relatively easy to rise to an assistant professor position in Poland or Slovakia.

Falling in love was another reason interviewees stayed. One met his future wife outside a bus station a week before he was due to leave Poland, and “ended up deciding against leaving”. Another “met a girl from Slovakia. And like a lot of [compatriots] in Slovakia, I fell in love with this girl.”

The results of the study may concern some governments in eastern and southern Europe, who fear their universities are not internationally attractive enough to counter a chronic “brain drain” out of the country. Last month, Poland announced a 10 per cent budget increase for 10 universities it hopes to make competitive with the best in Europe.

But, the study found, despite some complaints about low wages, poor infrastructure, the language barrier, and bureaucracy, foreign academics in Poland and Slovakia were very rarely dissatisfied with their choice.

For academics, “a dart throw ‘strategy,’ or rather a lack of a strategy, can lead to high work satisfaction and positive assessment of quality of life”, the study concludes.


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