Extending immigration timeframes would be a gain for Australia.
By Sonia Pechner, Executive Director, Academic Search International
The current Australian immigration environment makes it challenging for universities to recruit international talent at professorial level, says ASI’s Executive Director, Sonia Pechner, but there are ways to overcome this.
Current recruitment timeframes are far too short to search and secure most international professorial talent, explains Sonia. “I’m referring to senior research-based positions such as professors and chairs - which are a large part of what we do at ASI - as opposed to junior academic positions.”
The current time frame in Australia is four months from the time a position is advertised to when a candidate needs to submit an application for a visa – and it simply isn’t long enough, she says. “To be frank, few candidates are likely to uproot their lives, let alone their research and move countries in such a short time frame.”
Often these research-based candidates are working on long term grants and research projects, leading teams who are relying on their leadership. Moving their research to Australia requires considerable planning and foresight. Sonia elaborates, “There are a whole range of issues that they need to take into consideration, such as the term of their grants, research facilities, stage of their research – it’s not uncommon for professorial appointments to take around eight to twelve months and sometimes more. Australia’s current timeframe of four months might not be a significant problem in the short term, due to the number of excellent universities in the country, but in the longer term, it has the potential to impact the pool of world-class talent. Growing your own talent will only get you so far.”
One of the ways to overcome this is for Australian universities to work with immigration to extend the timeline for recruiting and appointing, she says – particuarly for research-based positions such as professors or chairs. “This will help to grow Australia’s knowledge pool and talent base, which would definitely be of significant long-term benefit to the country.”
The other solution is for Australian universities to improve their recruitment processes. “In comparison, New Zealand universities are really effective at international recruiting. They have very robust processes in place, despite some of the bigger challenges such as size, location and a more constrained financial environment. In general, New Zealand universities are very successful at attracting high calibre international talent.”
She says that’s because New Zealand universities have a more thorough approach. “They tend to take the time to explore international talent. Candidates often come for several days and have a series of interviews – they get to know them really well, which creates a great experience for the candidates. It allows universities to focus on more than an interview to assess whether the candidate is the best fit for a position. In the majority of instances, our international candidates have stayed in their positions for more than 10 years and contributed significantly to their university and society.”
“Even if they aren’t successful in getting the position, it has created a favourable impression and they’ll share that impression with others back home. I’ve seen several situations where candidates have stayed in touch and gone on to create successful international collaborations – it’s one of the by-products of conducting an effective international search.”
Sonia’s third piece of advice is for universities themselves to ensure they allow enough time to conduct a thorough international search. ASI’s successful track record is, in part, due to taking the time to get it right, she explains.
“A short timeframe makes it very diffcult for a candidate to even entertain the idea. They have to put in an application quickly, then perhaps fly out for a quick 45-minute interview three weeks later, then fly home again. The process becomes very transactional and doesn’t give either side a fair chance. The candidate doesn’t get to meet colleagues and see if they’re a good fit and universities can’t thoroughly ensure that person is the right candidate. While they may be brought out again at a later stage, this is not practical if the candidate lives in Asia, the UK or the USA.
Research shows that the interview process alone isn’t enough to define whether someone is right for the position, so the more indepth and robust the search process, the better the outcome.”