Globalisation and the immobile academic
This week I am about to undertake a house move. Or to be precise, my family and I are undertaking a series of complex moves, leaving an apartment in Yorkshire, moving most of its contents to an apartment in Dublin, and in turn moving the contents of our house in Dublin to our new home in Aberdeen. The complexity of this move is in part a reflection of our academic history, having worked in Dublin, Hull and now Aberdeen. In that sense I am a product of the global academic network, in which a move between institutions and indeed between countries has often been a normal part of academic career development. In fact until recently most universities would expect up to 10 per cent of their academic workforce to leave or migrate to another institution in any given year.
But no longer. Over the past two or three years the number of academic jobs advertised as vacant has been a fraction of what it once was. As funding is cut almost everywhere, faculty are staying in place as long as they can retain their jobs, and those leaving due to retirement are often no longer being replaced. Just as the spread of communications technology has made intellectual globalisation more and more of a reality, the physical migration of lecturers is in decline. Whereas in the past many younger academics would expect to move within the first ten years of their careers, nowadays they are likely to stay put and hope that they can get a more secure contract.
Does this matter? I think it does, because the decline of academic migration is just one of several changes in the academy, including the decline of conferencing, and the decline (as I expect) of external examining. Despite easy access to the global community through the internet, I suspect that many institutions will become more parochial, not only because fewer people are moving, but also because those that are there are less self-confident. It is to be hoped that the era of staffing reductions will not go on much longer; the effects are not just organisational, but also intellectual.