Global Higher Education: Releasing HR’s strategic potential

The global higher-education sector continues to respond to the opportunities, and grapple with the challenges, arising from the new workforce operating models necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the changing regulatory landscape in general.

There are risks still to be resolved with employees having been “COVID-displaced” in unexpected locations, whilst the easing of most travel restrictions has resulted in the recommencement of previously deferred travel, whether for international research, in-person teaching at overseas partner institutions, or the pursuit of fellowships, sabbaticals and/or new research or teaching collaborations. These bring increased risk in terms of cost, operations and reputation. There is also an increasing demand for international remote working, the need for sustainable global travel to support targets to reduce global emissions, and considerations around fairness and equality of opportunity. Even more focus is therefore needed now on where employees are travelling to and from, what they are doing, and whether these arrangements meet the academic, operational and strategic needs of higher-education institutions (HEIs).

Why does this matter for university HR leaders and their colleagues?

Despite the necessary focus on costs when it comes to analysing, approving and initiating international working arrangements (IWAs), the Vialto Partners Higher Education Global Mobility survey (February 2022) found that 90% of universities look to the HR function to take responsibility for the management and/or approval of these arrangements. HR is therefore central to the future success of IWAs within their HEIs.

Based on feedback from numerous HEIs, the definition of success can vary when viewed from the perspective of the individual academic and the institution as a whole. Many across the sector are considering the feasibility of the curtailment of IWAs where the main driver is employee preference rather than operational or strategic need, with some having already implemented preventative measures in this respect.

However, evidence indicates that limiting IWAs is not the preferred option for universities focused on developing new research relationships, attracting new staff, and/or developing their international teaching and research strategy. The Vialto survey reveals that 32% of universities rank improved research collaborations as the area of highest benefit from IWAs, with others ranking the ability to attract new staff talent (16%), the achievement of planned future international teaching and research strategy (16%), and alignment with existing strategy (11%) as the number-one benefit of these arrangements.

As individuals reassess what is important to them in a post-COVID-19 world, and as HEIs seek to balance employee personal wishes against operational and strategic needs, addressing flexibility of working in an international context is key to accessing the above benefits; especially when receiving increased, and sometimes more complex, employee working requests, or when the university is seeking to deploy staff whose nationality or country of tax residence may not the same as the university itself. Our results show HEIs expecting increases in international travel to China (54% of respondents), India (36%) and Western Europe (43%), and yet of those HEIs anticipating such increases in these regions, only 55% currently have a formal IWA policy in place; which presents a potential challenge for HR in maintaining control of IWAs and managing their effectiveness.

A global team of dedicated HE specialists can help universities evaluate the right approach and enhance or embed new processes to encourage mobility that supports this approach. HR can feel empowered to work with finance, tax and payroll stakeholders to make international working a more attractive experience—and a real differentiator when striving to attract and retain talent and ensure IWAs support universities’ strategic objectives.

Contact us

For a deeper discussion or to review the full findings of the Vialto Partners Higher Education Global Mobility survey, please reach out to your Vialto contact or alternatively

Marie Green
Higher Education Global Mobility UK Lead

Dan Perkins
Higher Education Global Mobility

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