29% of scientific positions held by foreign researchers

Norway has a very healthy proportion of foreign researchers, according to new analysis published by the Nordic Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education (NIFU) and Statistics Norway.

The new statistical overview of researchers and academic staff at Norwegian university colleges, universities, research institutes and health trusts who are foreign immigrants defines ‘immigrant’ as someone born outside Norway and having two non-Norwegian parents, write Hebe Gunnes and Frøydis Sæbø Steine.

Most immigrants in research, therefore, are international researchers who move to Norway to work in a variety of research positions.

These findings are also presented on the NIFU web pages in a form that makes it possible for the readers to carry out analysis with the raw data for the four years 2007, 2010, 2014 and 2018.

The findings were also reported in English in Kifinfo, the newsletter of the Committee for Gender Balance and Diversity in Research

More than 10,000 international scientific staff

In 2018, the number of researchers and academic staff at Norwegian universities, university colleges, health trusts and research institutes totalled 36,608 – and of these 29% were international (10,633 people).

The numbers and percentage have increased significantly since 2007 when the 4,850 immigrants accounted for 18% of the academic staff at Norwegian institutions.

The overview shows that immigrants made up 29% of research personnel in 2018. This implies that immigrants, who account for 17% of the general population, are strongly overrepresented in academia.

Some “76% of these immigrants and descendants of immigrants were internationally mobile researchers educated abroad, both in 2014 and in 2018”, Hebe Gunnes, a senior adviser at NIFU who is responsible for the diversity statistics, stated.

International labour market

“As part of an international labour market, immigrants and descendants of immigrants make up an increasing proportion of the research personnel, especially among researchers in temporary positions such as research fellows and postdocs.

“As for the postdocs, immigrants held 46% of the positions in 2007, and 71% in 2018,” Frøydis Sæbø Steine, adviser at NIFU and one of the authors of the report, told University World News.

“Most researcher positions are now announced internationally, but that is not because of diversity goals. It is mostly about attracting the best candidates – academic quality and relevance. Many international researchers simply beat out the Norwegians,” Hebe Gunnes told Kifinfo.

Gunnes thinks it will be interesting to track the long-term changes Norway will undergo as the research environment becomes more international.

Key findings from the report are:

• In 2007, 44% of international researchers came from six countries: Germany, Sweden, China, Denmark, India and Iran; in 2018, this share was 38%.

• Germany was the most strongly represented both in 2007 (640) and in 2018 (1,339) – a 109% increase; Sweden had 823 and China 522 in 2018. The other main countries represented are the UK, Denmark, India, Italy, Iran and France.

• India, Iran and Italy had the largest percentage growth of researchers during the period.

• The highest share of immigrants and descendants of immigrants is found in temporary positions such as postdocs and research fellows, and in natural sciences and engineering and technology (STEM fields).

• The percentage of immigrants in postdoc positions in 2007 was 46%, increasing to 71% in 2018. Notably the group from Asia, Turkey, Africa, Latin America, Oceania without New Zealand and Australia, and Europe outside EU-EEA, doubled their share from 15% in 2007 to 31% in 2018.

• In 2007, 20% of the 611 professors were immigrants but by 2018 this had risen to 27%.

• The universities with the highest proportion of immigrants among the tenured staff are Bergen (29%), Oslo (27%) and 25% at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

• Percentage of immigrants in research and recruitment positions at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (54%), Oslo (52%), Bergen (50%) and NTNU (50%).

• For women in natural sciences employed in postdoc positions, the proportion of immigrants was 53% in 2018 compared with 33% in 2007.

• In technological fields the percentage of women increased from 29% (2007) to 44% (2018).

About 80% of the researchers with an immigrant background are internationally mobile researchers with higher education from abroad. Norwegian higher education and research institutions have a high share of immigrants in the workforce. The largest group of immigrants in Norwegian research comes from Germany, followed by Sweden and China, UK and Denmark.

High proportion of women

The gender balance varies among researchers from different countries. The highest proportion of women is found among researchers from Finland (over 60% in all years), followed by Poland and Russia, where more than half of the immigrant researchers are women.

Almost half of the researchers from Sweden and Denmark were women. All years combined, one third of the researchers from India were women, where we see the largest proportion of male researchers. From the United Kingdom as well, only one third of the researchers were women. More men than women come from Iran, but here the proportion of women has increased significantly during the period, from 20% in 2007 to 40% in 2018.

Retaining international scientists

Almost half of the 10,000 internationally recruited staff in Norway are employed in temporary positions.

University World News asked Agnete Vabø, an associate professor at Oslo Metropolitan University (OsloMet) who also works as research professor at NIFU, focusing on international mobility of scientists, if it was not important for Norway to keep them here after their engagement period is over?

“To the extent that the movement of international researchers is mapped out and analysed, this is demonstrating, not surprisingly, that international doctoral candidates to a much lower extent compared to Norwegians are continuing to a scientific career in Norway upon graduation,” she said.

The proportion of international staff is much lower in tenured positions: among professors and senior lecturers the share is slightly above one fifth. Among the teaching positions (lecturer and university teacher), the proportion of foreign citizens is around 9%.

These are positions that are more common for the professional degrees in health and teacher training , characterised by relatively little research and international collaboration compared to the STEM fields and other natural sciences and technological fields, she said.

“International recruitment hence contributes to strengthen the horizontal division between careers mainly targeting research and those careers mainly serving teaching purposes, and the vertical division between professors and those in recruitment positions,” Vabø said.

“The growing proportion of temporary positions and the growing number of international applicants is a sign of an academic workforce increasingly characterised by a global market.”

Vabø said there is criticism that the academic workforce both internationally and nationally is increasingly being given less favourable work conditions, with a growing use of temporary positions.

“One interpretation of the recruitment patterns can then be that foreigners to a greater extent than Norwegians are offered less attractive working conditions,” Vabø said.

But this did not mean that Norway does not have a strategy, since there is excellence competition in the form of research consortia to be awarded 10 years of funding up to NOK100 million (US$11.9 million), which has led to the recruitment of the best researchers from an international pool.

It is important also not to forget the strategy of international collaboration in research and recruitment that is taking place in the globalised research communities and networks of scholars that have relatively great autonomy to decide on their recruitment practices – Norwegian climate research is a good example.

“Thirdly, the growing share of temporary positions and corresponding international applicants is a sign of a working market for science that is increasingly becoming more global and where temporary stays abroad as postdocs are a necessary component in an academic career,” Vabø argued.

However, she accepted that international recruitment of academic staff had been exposed to extensive public debate, especially in the humanities and the social sciences, where it has been argued that increased international recruitment should not conflict with knowledge about the Norwegian society, language and culture.

Reasons to stay

University World News asked Anne Nele Meckler, associate professor at the department of earth science and research director at the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, why she, as a German with a doctorate from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich, decided to come to Bergen and whether she is planning to stay in Norway.

Meckler, a recipient of a European Research Council starting grant 2015-20 and an ERC consolidator grant 2021-25, said that as a climate scientist, Bergen is an attractive workplace because it hosts the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research, a large, internationally-known hub for climate research.

“The Bjerknes Centre is a very international and dynamic environment, which is an important aspect for me – so there is an amplifying effect: once you generate an international environment, it will become easier to attract scientists from abroad.”

She said another factor was the starting grant scheme of the Trond Mohn Foundation. This is an attractive opportunity for young scientists to set up a research group with substantial funding for four years, and with the security of a tenure-track path, meaning potential for a permanent position afterwards.

“This was especially important in my case, because my husband, who is also a professor, had an offer in Bergen and the Trond Mohn project was a way to establish a second position for me so we could move here as family. I have also, since coming here, experienced a lot of support from UiB, for example for attracting European research funding.

“Finally, a not unimportant factor is that it is easier here in Norway to combine an academic position with having a family, compared to countries with a more classical or old-fashioned view on family roles. And yes, we are happy here and have decided to stay,” Meckler said.