South African study on the mobility of R&D workers - implications for the project on careers of doctorate holders
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In a recent study on the mobility of R&D workers in South Africa it was found that while there were concerns that top researchers were being lost to developed countries with more attractive R&D environments, a more serious issue appeared to be the migration of researchers to non-R&D managerial and specialist positions within South Africa. The study relied on available sources of information and data, interviews with R&D worker employers, case studies of prominent researchers and questions on mobility that were included in the South African R&D Survey questionnaire for 2001/02. The best available South African and relevant international sources of migration data were examined but they all had their inherent weaknesses. In South Africa, most sources of official data collection, such as the forms used at international departure and arrival halls would be more useful if they had an occupational category for doctorate holders and/or researchers. There also needs to be greater awareness in the providers of information on skills, mobility and doctorate holders (such as higher education institutions) of the importance to planners of these sources of data. It is essential to establish and maintain institutional capacity to undertake the necessary baseline surveys in order that reliable time series may be constructed. In South Africa, as in many other developing countries, data on research and high-level skills are not a primary responsibility of the official statistical agency, such as Statistics South Africa. Consequently other government departments and research institutes find the need to establish their own institutional capacity to gather such information. In South Africa emigration to major destination OECD countries tends to be under-reported and the flow is up to four times as large as the official figures actually record. Surveys of doctorate holders in other countries would thus be particularly useful for providing policy makers with information on the factors affecting the careers of ex-South African doctoral holders abroad.
The approach of conducting interviews with employers and researchers is recommended for the richness of the information it provides for explanations of more quantitative data as well as the insights it provides on the factors affecting the careers of researchers. Some other pointers for improving South Africa data sources on mobility and the careers of doctorate holders were provided in the study, including the development and maintenance of standard, accurate and appropriate data series for mapping the migration of researchers both within the South African system and internationally. Although the mobility questions attached to the R&D survey proved to be a fairly onerous burden for respondents and are unlikely to be included in future surveys, they provided an excellent source of quantitative information, which will be published in the near future.