Non-mobile post-docs take greater share of tenure

A greater share of post-doctoral applicants who have not studied or worked abroad gain tenure than those who have been internationally mobile before and during their post-doctoral career, according to a new report.

The working paper published by the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education, or NIFU, concluded: “A greater proportion of the mobile post-doctors leave the university and research institutions. At the same time we see a greater proportion of the non-mobile [post-docs] gaining a tenured scientific/academic position, but there is also a greater proportion of these in temporary positions compared to the mobile post-doctor candidates.”

But Professor Ole Petter Ottersen, rector of the University of Oslo, last week warned against reading causality into the data.

“This could give associations towards nepotism,” he told University World News.

“An equally valid interpretation could be that this is a cohort that actively seek away from an academic career in Norway and seek a career in other countries and in other sectors of the working life there.”

Hebe Gunnes and Pål Børing, the authors of the paper, “The Road from Post-doctor to Academia: A statistical analysis of post-doctor’s career at the university and research institutions”, examined the data registries on post-doc candidates at higher education institutions in 2001, 2005 and 2009 and checked their subsequent career at universities, hospitals, university colleges and the research institute sector, looking for how many had obtained tenured positions as professor, associate professor, director of research, medical doctor or psychologist after 5 to 6 years and after 8 years.

The number of post-doctoral recruits at universities in Norway increased significantly from about 500 in 2001 to 1,400 in 2009, and those recruited from abroad increased from 25% in 2001 to 40% in 2009, according to the report, which was released at the end of last month.

“International announcement of scientific positions should of course be an obvious routine,” said Petter Ottersen. “Norway ought to be world champions in internationalisation. Ninety-nine per cent of new knowledge is produced outside of our borders, and this knowledge we have to bring here – in particular with regard to the work that has to be done to transfer our economy built on fossil fuels to a green economy. So we have to recruit the best from the international talent pool.”

The University of Oslo invests approximately 20% of the total annual budget or NOK1 billion (US$115.5 million) a year on the training of young researchers.

Working group

The Norwegian Association of Higher Education Institutions in 2013 appointed a six-member working group to address the challenge of recruiting more highly talented researchers to Norway and to improve the career patterns of young researchers so that the best remain in academia, both with regard to talented Norwegian and foreign scientists.

The working group, chaired by Professor Kari Melby, pro-rector at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, or NTNU, delivered its report in June.

The report, Attractive Career Policy for Scientific Staff in the Higher Education Sector: Norwegian higher education institutions shall be much more attractive both for international and Norwegian talent, made a large number of recommendations for Norwegian institutions to improve their recruitment practices when recruiting scientific staff members. Staff was divided into four categories: first stage researchers, recognised researchers, established researchers and leading researchers, modelled after the European Commission.

The major recommendation was that a basic principle should be that all recruitment of scientific staff at Norwegian institutions should be announced internationally.

It also found that the proportion of Norwegian young researchers going abroad for research remains low.

"Outgoing mobility is low for Norwegian researchers, even if many have short research periods abroad,” the report said. “International cooperation is regarded as important, but the barrier to go abroad is high.”

It said the positive Norwegian labour market may explain some of this, while high unemployment in other countries stimulates researchers to come to Norway. And also the Norwegian family pattern often requires that two scientific positions abroad have to be found."

Professor Roland Jonsson of the University of Bergen, a member of the working group, told University World News that the need to recruit and keep the best talent in Norway and to give them good follow-up remains strong.

“We have to realise that we compete on the international arena regarding talents and grants, and this means that the leadership at all levels has to give priority to recruitment and career policies. This involves all categories of scientific staff, all the way from PhD to internationally leading professors. A good start is to establish individual career plans," he said.