Significant others: ‘dual career’ services on the rise in Europe

Warwick seminar hears German and Swiss universities lead the way on support for partners

March 7, 2017
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In tandem: universities ‘should make ‘dual career and integration services an accepted and standard offer for employees’

More European universities are providing support to the partners of newly hired international academic staff, following the lead of US institutions.

A seminar at the University of Warwick being held to mark International Women’s Day on 8 March was due to hear that the German and Swiss sectors were leading the way in the development of “dual career” services, which have been common across the Atlantic since the 1980s.

Charoula Tzanakou, a research fellow in Warwick’s department of politics and international studies, was set to explain that support often focused on career advice – assistance with job searches, CV and interview training, and networking with local employers. Some also offer childcare, housing and “integration” services to the couple.

“Services for dual career couples are emerging in Europe following the example of well-established programmes in the US,” Dr Tzanakou’s paper says. 

She describes dual career services as granting “an important competitive advantage in the labour market for research institutions and the local economy” and providing “a signal to employees that HEIs acknowledge the pressures that dual career couples come across in a global academic marketplace and…are willing to help with work-life balance issues”.

In both Germany and Switzerland, dual career services have been supported by federal funding. 

Such services remain much better developed in the US, where a job offer to one member of an academic couple can sometimes be accompanied by an offer of a job for their partner.

However, Dr Tzanakou highlights that when dual career services are available only at professor level, where men outnumber women, they tend to “reproduce gender inequalities”. It is better, she says, to emphasise the postdoctoral level, where men and women are more equally represented.

Dr Tzanakou says that there is also evidence of stereotypical assumptions about gender roles, with evidence that appointment committees “did not view women favourably when they referred to the need for dual career support”.

The Warwick event, organised by the Society for Research in Higher Education, was also due to hear from Mark de Vos, senior mobility consultant at the University of Copenhagen, where partners of those who come to work or study from PhD level upwards are provided with professional and personal networking opportunities, help with job searches, monthly “spouse lunches” and a monthly newsletter. 

More than 400 registered spouses are currently part of the free programme, 90 per cent of them women.

Mr de Vos told Times Higher Education that universities should make “dual career and integration services an accepted and standard offer for employees”. 

It is “a good idea to focus on partners”, he added, “since partners are often part of decisions about where researchers choose to go”.

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