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Expatriate academics and expatriate management in a South African higher education institution.

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The main aim of the study is to examine the staffing trends of academics in SA higher education in order to compare South African academics to expatriate academics. A secondary aim of the study is to examine the international career experience of expatriate academics at University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) from the perspective of expatriate academics concerning their reasons for relocating to South Africa as well as their experience of organisational and social support as well as from the perspective of organisational stakeholders, namely their academic line managers and human resource (HR) specialists at UKZN. Currently, SA is facing major skills and staffing shortages in terms of Science, Engineering and Agriculture. The Department of Higher Education and Training (DOHET) has provided funding to source international talent to allow SA universities to run programmes in scarce skills disciplines to create ‘home grown’ talent to overcome the staff and skills shortages. This type of international talent remains a largely under-researched group, as they have been labelled ‘self-initiated expatriates (SIEs)’. Many academics embark on international mobility in order to develop their careers and to improve their marketability and employability, therefore are part of this group and are called expatriate academics. The problem comes in when universities do not have formal policies in place to manage their international talent so as to retain this valuable human resource, they are managed no differently than their local colleagues despite facing a myriad of challenges in the form of general, work and interaction adjustment (Black and Gregersen, 1999). By examining expatriate academics experiences at UKZN, the aim of the study is to create a programme especially designed to assist expatriate academics to successfully adjust to life at UKZN and their communities in KwaZulu-Natal. This study has adopted a mixed methodology, using secondary data, quantitative and qualitative methods to extract the data required to examine expatriate academics in South African higher education and at UKZN. Firstly, an analysis of staffing trends in publically funded SA higher education institutions over the three years 2005/2010/2012 was conducted during the secondary data collection phase of the current study. Secondly, a self-reporting questionnaire consisting of questions covering the reasons for relocation and actual experience of expatriation was administered to expatriate academics at UKZN. Furthermore, the questionnaire incorporated the “Protean and Boundaryless Career Attitude Scales” (PBCA) which was developed by Briscoe, Hall and Demuth (2006:16).Thirdly, semi-structured interviews with academic line managers (heads of school, deans, discipline co-ordinators, supervisors) and HR specialists were conducted. This helped to provide the employer’s perspective, which is useful as a way of situating the faculty, school, discipline and administration’s viewpoint within the larger institution. The results of the secondary data collection phase results revealed that there were no significant differences in age between SA and expatriate academics nationally over the three years. However, when examining the age of academics (SA and expatriate), it is clear to see that it is a truly heterogeneous group of individuals. However, at UKZN over the three years there have been more female SA academics employed. A comparison of the academic qualifications of SA and expatriate academics over the three years indicates that expatriate academics are more highly qualified than their SA colleagues, as the majority of the former hold a doctoral degree. The majority of expatriate academics are recruited from SADC countries as well as other African countries. Interestingly enough, the next most frequent major supply region of expatriate academics to South Africa is Europe. WITS and UCT were consistently ranked first and second in terms of the number of expatriate academics employed over the three years. Both are among the leading five higher education institutions in South Africa in terms of their research outputs as well as the number of PhDs per member of staff. Secondly, an investigation into the motivation behind the expatriate academics’ decision to relocate was carried out. These findings suggest that there is no one primary motivation but rather a variety of motives at any given life stage or career stage that may together motivate expatriate academics in general. The motive Career appeared to be dominant among the respondents in this study, closely followed by Adventure/Travel and then Financial. Thirdly, the individual career experiences of expatriate academics in this study indicate that the majority are well adjusted in terms of their relationships with their host country colleagues and their relationships with family and friends back home as well as in terms of the fulfillment of their expectations regarding work. They did, however, indicate that their experience of organisational support could have been improved during their experience as well as during the pre-departure phase. Unlike previous studies, the results of this study indicate that expatriate academics do not share close ties with other expatriates or local South Africans in the university community or within the communities in which they lived. Fourthly, expatriate academics had to deal with many challenges during their career experience here in South Africa. These have been discussed across three levels, macro- (administrative), meso- (work adjustment) and micro-level (family and lifestyle adjustment). This proves that SIEs face many challenges that hinder their ability to expatriate and have positive career experiences. The PBCA scale was developed by Brisoe, Hall and Demuth (2006) and adapted for use in an academic setting. The results from the use of the scale in the current study indicate that respondents exhibit a protean career attitude which suggests that they are “able to develop a greater adaptability and self-awareness thereby ensuring a proactive smart employee” (Briscoe and Hall, 2006:16). These results confirm the results of the Expatriation Experience sub-scale in which it was found that the respondents were well adjusted to their work environment. The respondents in this study are best described ‘solid citizens’ in terms of the Career Profiles of Contemporary Career Agents (see Table 3.4) developed by Briscoe and Hall (2006). Fifthly, the major opportunities, according to management, presented by having expatriate academics at UKZN include access to subject matter expertise, diversity and a wealth of knowledge and experience. These academics also bring with them valuable social capital in the form of resources like networks of contacts, collaborative research opportunities and innovative curriculum development. Above all else, they serve as the solution to the critical skills shortages South Africa is facing particularly in the fields of science, engineering and mathematics. This study is a multi-disciplinary study, that is situated in a number of disciplines such as expatriate management, career management, migration as well as higher education studies. Therefore it adds to the existing body of knowledge by providing a multi-disciplinary approach to a concept that was previously exclusively dealt with in management studies in a business environment. This study is therefore unique as it highlights the perceptions of organisational support by expatriate academics to assess whether or not the organisation, in this case UKZN is doing enough to ensure the success of the international experience of expatriate academics.


Doctor of Philosophy in Management. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville 2014.


College teachers--Travel., College teacher mobility--Education (Higher)--South Africa., Expatriation--Psychological aspects--Education (Higher)--South Africa., Teachers, Foreign--Education (Higher)--South Africa--Management.., Theses--Human resource management., Expatriate academics., Expatriate management.