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Oliveira, T.; Nada, C.; Magalhães, A. Academic Migration and Epistemological Value. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 20 June 2024).
Oliveira T, Nada C, Magalhães A. Academic Migration and Epistemological Value. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed June 20, 2024.
Oliveira, Taísa, Cosmin Nada, António Magalhães. "Academic Migration and Epistemological Value" Encyclopedia, (accessed June 20, 2024).
Oliveira, T., Nada, C., & Magalhães, A. (2023, July 20). Academic Migration and Epistemological Value. In Encyclopedia.
Oliveira, Taísa, et al. "Academic Migration and Epistemological Value." Encyclopedia. Web. 20 July, 2023.
Academic Migration and Epistemological Value

The internationalisation of higher education (IoHE) has become a prominent topic in higher education research. While there is increasing institutional and governmental commitment to IoHE, it is important to consider the actual outcomes of these processes critically. Despite the significant issues raised by the academic migration of professors, researchers, and post-docs regarding migratory trajectories and epistemological aspects of scholarly work, this area of research remains understudied. This research adopted a qualitative approach, drawing on semi-structured interviews with migrant scholars pursuing academic careers in Portugal. The findings suggest that a complex interplay of factors influences the pursuit of an academic career by migrants, including the influence of institutional and governmental policies regarding science and the impact of marketisation of higher education institutions that have jeopardised academic career possibilities.

migrant academics multiculturalism academic careers

1. Conceptualising Internationalisation of Higher Education

The internationalisation of higher education (IoHE) emerged as a significant area of change in HEIs worldwide [1][2][3]. However, IoHE is a complex topic with no static or agreed-upon approach, as Stein et al. [4] noted. It encompasses various perspectives, each with different implications and political understandings. These authors offered a social cartography regarding different understandings and approaches of IoHE, including internationalisation for the global knowledge economy, global public good, anti-oppressive internationalisation, and relational translocalism.
As Stein et al. [4] explain, “IoHE for the global knowledge economy” frames HE as a central element for success in the “global knowledge economy”. From this perspective, HE is key to supporting innovation and developing a competitive workforce, fostering growth in increasingly global and interconnected economies. Specific fields, such as science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), are prioritised due to educating students with specific goals aligned with market needs [4][5]. Moreover, the same authors highlighted that the standardisation of Western knowledge is widely accepted within this paradigm, and expanding Eurocentric epistemological approaches is seen as a beneficial outcome of the internationalisation process. Yet, non-Western knowledge can be valued if deemed to have exchange value, such as indigenous knowledge about plants for developing new and profitable medicines. (Stein et al. [4] gave a practical example of this type of IoHE approach in a programme developed at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand (NZ) called the “21 Day International Challenge”. In this project, higher education students in New Zealand competed to develop an “innovative” and “entrepreneurial” solution to problems in “struggling communities” in the Philippines. Participants had three weeks to develop a business plan to transform people’s lives in this setting, despite having minimal knowledge about that context, community, and culture. Although students in the programme were encouraged to “listen” to people from the community, they were mainly supported and mentored by partners from the New Zealand business sector.).
In the case of “IoHE for the global public good”, the importance of democratising access to HE worldwide is emphasised while critiquing purely instrumental and economic approaches to IoHE [4][5]. Higher education is understood as the primary source of the global public goods of democracy, prosperity, and knowledge. Nonetheless, this perspective does not consider the foundational models, plausibility, and legitimacy of modern institutions, e.g., HEIs, courts, legal and tax systems, and parliaments, among others, and their operating logic and their limits in achieving global goods in a broader sense [4][5][6]. As for “anti-oppressive internationalisation”, the approach to IoHE is “based on a commitment to work in solidarity for systemic change toward greater social justice” [4] (p. 9). This perspective challenges the critique presented in the approach of “IoHE for the global public good” by questioning what qualifies as “public” and what is deemed “good”. It also questions IoHE approaches that tend to dismiss or downplay systemic issues, such as the impact of the current, updated, and sophisticated manifestations of racism, colonialism, and imperialism that international encounters may bring to the surface [6][7][8][9]. IoHE through the lens of “relational translocalism”, as Stein et al. [4] highlighted, is an approach that emphasises “the notion that exposure to more knowledge about the systemic harms of the dominant global imaginary is necessary but insufficient for addressing problems caused by those harms, and for nurturing possibilities for knowing and being otherwise” (p. 11). (The authors used a programme in Brazil as an example of the IoHE approach through relational translocalism. This programme takes international (mostly North American students) to Brazilian “favelas” to teach them about poverty. It aims to show the students that their efforts to “make a difference” may contribute to the problem. The programme encourages self-reflection and confronts the violent and unsustainable structures within global systems that arise from their historical and political standpoint. It also highlights the contradictions in the ways that possible solutions are presented. For more information, see: accessed on 1 May 2023). This perspective accentuates the power relations inherent in IoHE dynamics and acknowledges the complex systems of dominance embedded in them. It suggests that only reforming HE systems, which are rooted and founded upon exploitative and hierarchical relations, may not result in social justice.
These significantly different approaches to IoHE show that internationalisation is a multifaceted concept possessing substantially different political understandings. Research on this topic was also explored in various ways, such as from students’ experiences overseas [10][11], from the influence of globalisation combined with the requirements of the knowledge society [2][3][12], from governmental and institutional perspectives [1], and by framing IoHE as a means of decolonising HE [2][13].
To better articulate the complexities and nuances of the experiences of migrant scholars within the context of fostered IoHE dynamics, it is crucial to recognise the close relationship between this topic and the current dominant marketisation and neoliberal orientations of HE systems [12][14][15].

2. Academic Diasporas and Internationalisation of Higher Education

Huang and Welch [3] emphasised the significance of migrant scholar recruitment for IoHE worldwide, highlighting that this cannot be viewed in isolation from institutions’ ambitions and strategies. From the institutional side, hiring migrant scholars may align with HEIs’ strategies to increasingly compete for funding, international students, and research grants, leading to a focus on recruiting high-profile academics who may bring in research funding and increase the institution’s global visibility.
For academics, as Courtois and Sautier [12] pointed out, this also may be a consequence of degraded employment conditions related to the neoliberal orientation of HE, which force precarious academics to hop from one short-term contract to another within and across national borders. The literature on migrant scholars reveals mixed experiences, with some studies exploring the potential of migrant academics as agents of knowledge transfer, interchange, and, ultimately, knowledge creation [16][17][18]. Others, such as Morley et al. [16], discussed international movements as counterpoints to intellectual parochialism but caution that the experiences of migrant academics are contextual, contingent, and contradictory and are rarely entirely positive or negative. Burford et al. [19] emphasised the importance of avoiding an overly romanticised view of academic mobility and drew attention to the challenges that migrant scholars face. According to these authors, these challenges include constraints and limited opportunities for career advancement, which often leads to migrant scholars feeling “stuck” in their careers, with limited options for moving out, upward, or forward. Scholars such as Pustelnikovaite [16] and Sang and Calvard [15] highlighted the complex and varied reasons why academics choose to migrate and how identity markers such as gender, ethnicity, race, and relationship status can impact mobility opportunities and willingness. Pustelnikovaite [17] study found that academics often migrate for personal and professional reasons, including seeking better working conditions, pursuing research opportunities, and improving their quality of life. Sang and Calvard [15] pointed out that women may be less likely to migrate due to gender socialisation, which may attribute more family responsibilities to them, as well as gender discrimination and limited opportunities in male-dominated fields. Meanwhile, Bufford et al. [19] raised important questions about the power dynamics that shape the mobility of scholars, highlighting the relevance of reflecting upon how broader geopolitical issues intersect with academic mobility trends.
“Academic mobility” refers to professional academics’ short-term or long-term movement. Therefore, researchers did not examine the phenomenon of international mobility of students. “Migrant academics/scholars” refers to professors, researchers, and postdoctoral fellows who move across national borders for academic-related work or to pursue and develop an academic career. It is worth noting that the quest for defining concepts such as “migrant” or “migration” raises political, societal, and historical questions. There is still much debate on the conceptualisation regarding who qualifies as a “migrant” and what is considered “migration” [2][8]. A single definition of migrant may be problematic and narrow as migrants may be defined based on foreign birth, citizenship, immigration control, an individual’s subjectivity (i.e., how individuals position themselves about their migration history and process), their movement into a new country for short-term or long-term stay, or a combination of these aspects. Mayblin and Turner [8] argued that using the term “migrant” to describe someone who moves across borders can have different implications compared to other terms such as “international” or “expatriate”. The latter terms suggest a positive message and a more beneficial understanding of the international presence of the host society. In contrast, the term “migrant” may resemble a political understanding of migration as a “problem” that needs to be solved. This view may consider the presence of migrants as a potential nuisance that requires appropriate policies to control it [7][8]. For this reason, the term “migrant academic/scholar” was intentionally used instead of terms such as “international academic/faculty/scholar” or “global talent”. This emphasises that language can denote and reinforce unequal power relations and reflects researchers’ worldviews regarding their research topics.

3. Academic Migration, Politics of Knowledge and Epistemic Injustice

As previously described, there is no single approach to IoHE, and academic mobility through academic experience is embedded in complex entanglements of economic, social, and political domains. While HE research documented well internationalisation policies and practices in different contexts. Several countries in the European Higher Education Area (EHEA) have national policies promoting academic staff mobility; less than half of EU nations collect information on how these experiences play along and the extent to which they meet the envisioned political expectations and goals [16].
Global statistics show that academic migration is increasingly relevant in different regions. According to Carvalho et al. [20], the number of migrant scholars is a key indicator of internationalisation for HEIs, as evidenced by its use in rankings such as Times Higher Education. In the United Kingdom (UK), migrant academics represent 30% of the UK’s academic workforce [17][18]. In the Asian HE landscape, South Korea, Japan, and China have implemented national strategies to attract migrant academics to their HEIs [3]. Lee and Kuzhabekova [21] suggested that peripheral countries such as Kazakhstan often hire migrants to increase research outputs.
Regarding epistemology, [22] coined the concept of epistemic injustice to describe injustices arising in knowledge production and distribution. According to her, epistemic injustice aims to address structural arrangements where the capacity of certain speakers to produce knowledge considered “worthy” is impacted, reduced, or denied by how they are perceived [22][23][24]. Fricker’s [22] argument moves between the lines of epistemology, ethics, and justice, emphasising the relevance of the interplay between the who and the what regarding knowledge production. Specifically, the who refers to the knowledge agent/subject, while the what pertains to the outcome of their knowledge production. The academic literature on epistemic injustice highlights the relevance of examining the relationship between epistemological value and social identity and the contextual perception of that identity [22][23]. For instance, it is common to challenge the validity of women’s epistemic claims by labelling them and their argument as “emotional”, “subjective”, or “personal”, while men’s claims are quite often labelled as “objective”, “neutral”, and “universal” [25][26].
According to Catala [24], migrant scholars are highly susceptible to a specific type of epistemic injustice: linguistic injustice. Being perceived as “speaking with an accent” can lead them to be viewed as “less competent, skilled, intelligent, and credible” (p. 333). However, the issue of speaking with an accent cannot be isolated from the context in which it takes place. The context is a critical factor as migrants position themselves and are positioned within a larger geopolitical, societal, and academic ecosystem [16][17][27][28].
Mignolo [28] emphasised the importance of geopolitical positioning in knowledge production, revealing the interconnection between knowledge producers’ positionings and global geopolitics. He argued that the current global epistemic system is influenced by epistemic hierarchies that value certain forms of knowledge (and certain knowledge subjects) as more legitimate and valuable than others. These hierarchies tend to favour knowledge produced per Western parameters, thereby favouring those who possess dominant Western identity markers (such as being male, white, and Western-educated) [28][29]. As the author pointed out, epistemic hierarchies are deeply entrenched within academic institutions and perpetuated through dynamics that are reinforced through language use, citation practices, and disciplinary boundaries. Mignolo [28] suggested that one possible way of challenging epistemic hierarchies is when historically marginalised knowledge subjects and production practices produce knowledge that does not assume/assimilate dominant epistemic hierarchies and practices but modifies the geopolitical understanding of what topics and subjects that may be considered epistemically valid. (Mignolo’s provides an example of Linda Smith, a Māori anthropologist, as particularly noteworthy because of her unique approach to knowledge production. Rather than studying Māori people as an outsider, Smith practised and produced knowledge as a Māori individual and from a Māori perspective, drawing on her own lived experiences and cultural heritage. This approach challenges the dominant Western paradigm of knowledge production and highlights the importance of diverse perspectives in producing a more comprehensive understanding of the world).

4. Internationalisation of Portuguese Academia and the Presence of Migrant Scholars

Carvalho et al. [20] noted that the Portuguese government had primarily driven the main policies aimed at IoHE of Portuguese academia. However, little is known about institutional initiatives aimed at promoting IoHE. Despite many policies being implemented in recent decades to internationalise Portuguese academia, many aspects of their effectiveness remain largely unknown. For example, the extent to which institutional efforts influenced the recruitment of migrant scholars remains unclear. The aspect of IoHE that received significant attention and is considered central to policies aimed at internationalising Portuguese academia is the attraction of international students [10][11]. Despite the impact of these policies and other factors affecting Portuguese HEIs, such as the significant increase in and diversification of student bodies in recent decades, the expectation that having a more diverse student population would result in a more diverse teaching and research faculty has not been realised [20].
Yet, there was a steady increase in the representation of migrant scholars since 2015, with them making up 4.2% of the total teaching staff of HEIs in Portugal in 2021/22 [20]. Nonetheless, the complete picture of migrant scholars working in Portuguese HEIs is not fully grasped by these statistics. The national statistics agency for Education and Science only annually delivers official teaching staff data. It does not release the same comprehensive data about the number and situation of researchers. In Portugal, academic career structures are legally divided into two main categories: teaching and research careers. Even though a scientific research career was formally established by Decree Law 129/99, few researchers are formally pursuing their careers under this legal status [30]. Most researchers working in academia in Portugal are hired through temporary fellowship contracts which offer limited labour rights [30]. A study evaluating national policy programmes (the programmes evaluated were Science Program, Welcome II, Researcher FCT, and Scientific Employment Stimulus (2017–2018). From 2018 on, only 300 contracts were considered for the study) that were launched aiming at hiring researchers for public HEIs in Portugal between 2012 and 2018 found that 72% of valid applications were from academics with Portuguese nationality and 28% were from foreign-born academics originating from 91 countries, mainly: Spain (7.2%), Italy (4.4%), Brazil (3.1%), the UK (2.2%), France (1.4%), India (1.2%), and Germany (1.1%) [31]. This statistic shows that although migrant academics are not highly represented in teaching staff, they are more significantly represented in research staff.
Since 2007, the National Funding Agency for Science and Technology (FCT) (the Foundation for Science and Technology (FCT) was established in 1997) launched programmes to hire more PhD graduates and improve Portugal’s outcomes in the global research arena. However, these programmes offer temporary contracts, not solid career paths [30]. Yet, these policies resulted in a significant increase in the number of PhD graduates in Portugal. However, having more doctorate holders in the country was not accompanied by HEIs’ capacity to absorb them [14][30]. Furthermore, in the Portuguese HE system, hiring professional academics for teaching-only positions is possible without requiring them to go through a competition. According to the law (Decree-Law no. 448/79, of November 13—Art. 15.), this is allowed under exceptional conditions, enabling HEIs to hire academics on fixed-term contracts and establish them as invited staff, leading HEIs to often resort to these precarious work arrangements to avoid opening tenured vacancies. From the point of view of HEIs, these strategies may temporarily fix their human resources needs. From the workers’ point of view, however, this may be one of the few opportunities to work in academia, despite its precarious and uncertain conditions [14][30][32].
Moreover, it is crucial to acknowledge that the global trend of marketisation in HE resulted in a tangible consequence of deteriorating working conditions and increased precariousness in academic work, which is also evident in Portugal [14][30]. According to Ferreira [30], more than 95% of all research activities in Portugal are carried out under precarious labour conditions. Carvalho et al. [14] suggested that working conditions in Portuguese academia are going through an “uberisation” process, in which a significant share of workers hold short-term or no contracts at all, as in the case of scholarship holders. This landscape indicates that the Portuguese HE system follows a global pattern in which precarity became the rule rather than the exception in shaping academic careers [12][32]. Yet, as noted by Burton and Bowman [32], precarity is also rooted in structures, policies, and social norms that produce vulnerability as part of one’s living and working conditions. In this sense, migrant scholars seeking an academic career may encounter precarious structural conditions that may be aggravated by other types of inequalities associated with their migrant status, as well as systemic inequalities related to gender, race, class, language, nationality, epistemology, and other factors that may intersect with their pursuit of an academic career [16][17][18][27].


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