University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Recession can attract the big brains

Global job insecurity, especially in the US, should help to draw talent to Copenhagen. But other European universities are also on the bandwagon

Copenhagen and other European universities have a golden opportunity to reverse the brain drain, as the global recession has universities everywhere freezing new hiring and capping salaries.

48 per cent of US colleges and universities have implemented a total or partial freeze on hiring new faculty and 36 per cent have frozen or delayed salary increases.

This is according to a survey of more than 200 US public and private institutions by the Chronicle of Higher Education and Moody’s Investors Service earlier this year.

US universities have been hit hard by losses in the value of their endowments and lower appropriations from state and federal government. To add to this predicament, private donors to colleges and universities are holding on to their wallets more tightly.

Converging on Copenhagen

The tight economy means bleak times for academic job seekers, who would have normally been attracted to hot positions in prestigious universities, for example in the US.

But for institutions like the University of Copenhagen (U of C) who do not compete for the absolute top notch in the salary race – this may be a successful hiring season.

As of April 2009 there are 747 international researchers salaried at the U of C., a 10 pct. increase over the last year, and following a trend of increases. Including part-time staff and visiting scholars, the figure is now close to 1300.

According to John E. Andersen of the International Office, the U of C is harvesting the benefits of a general increase in international mobility, and this goes for students, Ph.D.s, Post Docs and higher.

Also, in recent years the U of C has branded itself internationally, partnering with other universities in the international IARU group, and achieving high rankings.

»It is hard to say specifically what has been the global recession, the problems in the US, and what has been the increase in the attractiveness of Copenhagen. But the fact is we are attracting a larger number of international researchers right now,« John E. Andersen says.

Higher salary elsewhere

The current international interest in the U of C covers large differences between faculties and institutes. It also does not take outflows of Copenhagen researchers abroad into account.

Peter Erling Nielsen is study director at the Department of Economics. He says that in his field, mobility out and away from Copenhagen is as big as mobility inwards to Copenhagen. Especially top notch university programmes for economics in the UK, Holland and Germany are out-competing Copenhagen in his field.

»From my perspective, we still have a problem keeping our staff. They are very mobile, and there are still a lot of places where they can get a much higher salary: Especially in the professor category,« he says.

Everyone aiming for the top

It is a political decision whether the university should even attempt to poach the top-salary earners, the stars and celebrities of academia, he explains.

»If we want to be the best, it is not just the competition to attract Nobel Prize winners, something that may or may not be a good thing. It is about job conditions in general. Things like getting better at finding work for spouses,« he says.

One thing is for sure. European universities are all hoping to pot the same brainy Ph.D.s and professors. As John E. Andersen puts it:

»Everyone wants to attract the same heads, and everyone wants to be at the top of the rankings.
75 per cent of universities have it as their explicit goal to be in the top 25 per cent. Bearing this in mind, the U of C is doing well.«

Ivy League will be back

The University of Copenhagen jumped to 48th in the world on the Times Higher Education ranking in 2008 from 93rd in 2007. New rankings are due in one month.

Meanwhile, Peter Erling Nielsen warns the university against complacency. While the US doldrums give the advantage to lower-salaried Europe in the hunt for talent, the good times will not last, he says.

»The present economic crisis will come to an end, and the Ivy League universities will be back.«