Australian Researchers’ Mobility Portal

Sunday 16th November 2008

Work in 1997 on Australian research postgraduate student mobility indicated that most students chose to remain at their current institution for a research degree rather than move elsewhere, and that they were unlikely to seek widely for information. In the latest edition of the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, Margaret Kiley and Andy Austin write that a new study aimed at determining, seven years later, whether there had been changes showed that student mobility was “virtually the same”, with 61% of student respondents saying they were remaining at the same university to undertake a research masters or doctorate, 18% moving to a different university in the same state, and only 12% moving to a different university in a different state on completing their previous degree.

“As with the previous study, it was clear that students preferred to seek advice on future study from their existing supervisor or their departmental colleagues, and that accessing information via the internet and print media was undertaken relatively rarely,” write Kiley, of the Centre for Education Development and Academic Methods at the Australian National University in Canberra, and Austin of the Australian Centre for Evolutionary Biology and Biodiversity at the University of Adelaide.

The review study was undertaken because, the authors point out, there had been considerable development in the area of research education since 2000. “Further, and partly in hindsight, we wanted to develop a robust baseline of data to examine students' perceptions and mobility prior to the implementation of the Australian Government’s Research Quality Framework.” In the present study, Kiley and Austin predicted that there would be more student movement than previously, and an increase in the percentage of students seeking information regarding postgraduate opportunities through the internet.

“Although the number of doctoral holders in the Australian population is not particularly high, with only 7.8 per 1,000 of the employed population compared with 20.3 in Germany, the increasing numbers of doctoral candidates enrolling in Australian universities means that the present study has significance in terms of university policies and strategies,” write Kiley and Austin. “Furthermore, the fact that Australia has one of the youngest populations of doctoral holders; that is, 40% under 45 years compared with the United States, which has only 32%, also adds emphasis to the argument that a further study of the Australian 'stay at home' research student is critical.”

As with the earlier study, a sample of universities by geographic location and university type was contacted and those universities invited to participate in the project. While five universities participated in the original study (providing 398 responses), a further three were covered in the new survey (altogether providing 546 responses). Scholarships offices were sent multiple copies of the survey, which differed only marginally from the earlier one.

“Perhaps the most significant finding of the second study was the high degree of similarity of the results with those from the earlier study. Furthermore, where there were small-scale changes, the data indicated less mobility in the later study than in the earlier one, which ran counter to the researchers' expectation,” write Kiley and Austin. “However, the use of the internet for seeking information had increased, as predicted. Of particular note is the addition of the three new universities, which accounted for 16% of the overall responses. Despite this addition, the results are still overwhelmingly similar to the earlier study.”