International mobility of researchers

In this Facts & Figures, the Rathenau Institute presents the most recent information on the international mobility of researchers who come to and leave the Netherlands. Researcher mobility is a conscious aim and widely viewed as an indicator of the quality of individual researchers. But mobility is also feared. Many university administrators and politicians are afraid of a ‘brain drain’. The figures show, however that researcher inflow and outflow are evenly balanced in the Netherlands, both in number of individuals and quality. To gain a better understanding of this issue, the Rathenau Institute analysed various data sources on researchers in the Netherlands. It also tracked the mobility of Dutch and foreign researchers by comparing international data.

Based on the information collected, we have concluded as follows:

  • Dutch researchers are among the most mobile researchers in the world. They rank among researchers from other countries with a highly mobile research population, such as Germany, Switzerland, Canada and the United Kingdom.
  • Researcher inflow and outflow are evenly balanced. Dutch researchers are very mobile compared with their counterparts in other countries, but the Netherlands also attracts foreign researchers. Looking at the overall system, the Netherlands is experiencing neither a brain drain nor a brain gain.
  • Academic staff at Dutch universities are growing increasingly international. The percentage of academic staff who are foreign nationals has increased from 20% in 2005 to 33% in 2015. There are especially large numbers of foreign researchers in engineering and technology, the natural sciences and economics, but the increase is evident across all domains. These foreign researchers come mainly from Germany (5% of total academic staff), Italy (3%), China (3%), Belgium (2%) and India (2%), followed by the United Kingdom, the United States, Spain, Iran and Greece.
  • There is also a qualitative balance. We lose talent to other countries, but we also gain talented researchers from abroad. The citation impact scores of incoming and outgoing researchers are similar. In addition, both groups have high scores compared to other researchers in the Netherlands. We see the same balance between quality inflow and quality outflow in Switzerland, Germany, Sweden and Denmark. By comparison, incoming researchers in the United Kingdom and the United States have a higher citation impact than outgoing researchers.