Harder working, less satisfied – the foreign scholar’s lot?

Foreign academics working in the US are more productive than their American counterparts – but are also less satisfied with their work, a study has concluded.

December 5, 2011

The findings are detailed in a paper in the Journal of Higher Education, International Faculty: Experiences of Academic Life and Productivity in U.S. Universities, which measured productivity according to the number of research papers authored or co-authored that had been published in peer-reviewed journals over a five-year period.

It found that foreign-born academics with a foreign degree were the most productive. Foreign-born academics with a US degree were less productive than their peers with a foreign degree, however they were still more productive than US-born faculty.

However, the paper also says that foreign-born academics had a lower level of satisfaction with the intellectual challenge, level of responsibility and independence, contribution to society and salary and benefits than their American counterparts.

The research also highlights a greater gender imbalance among international faculty: while 26.5 per cent of US-born faculty are female, the figure falls to 25.7 per cent for foreign-born faculty with a US degree and 17.1 per cent for foreign-born faculty with a foreign degree.

The paper speculates that the higher productivity but lower satisfaction among academics from overseas could be due to differences in the rate of tenure – whereas 77.1 per cent of US faculty are tenured, just 70.5 per cent of foreign faculty are.

It adds that non-tenured academics tend to be more productive than their tenured peers.

The authors, Dongbin Kim, Lisa Wolf-Wendel and Susan B Twombly, all of the University of Kansas, conclude: “International scholars bring with them a diversity of perspectives and worldviews that potentially enrich the university in the global context.

“As international faculty are a growing proportion of academic hires, understanding the unique pattern of international faculty’s perception of academic life and their productivity will [have] significant implications for the larger system of US higher education in terms of the academic labour market, the pipeline of new scholars, and the education of undergraduates.”


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