International Degree and Post-Diploma Mobility in Information Science


My master’s thesis deals with the international degree and post-diploma mobility in information science. I explored patterns of the geographical mobility of researchers to find out if in this research field there exists a “brain drain.” Brain drain or brain gain describes the migration of scientists from their home country to another. The results are based on a quantitative dataset of 882 active information science researchers who have been involved in the 2014 to 2016 iConferences. The quantitative part of the study reveals two alarming trends: the American LIS researchers mostly never left their continent and might lack international exposure. On the other hand, researchers from Asia and Europe show a high rate of mobility towards North America. In particular the next generation of IS researchers receives its education in North America. 94.3 % of all Ph.D. students in the sample currently live in the US and may never return to their home countries.

Graphic: Modelling of factors

In the second part of my thesis I interviewed 16 information scientists from the quantitative sample to figure out the reasons for researchers and students to stay, come to or leave Europe. Family is an important personal factor that influences staying or leaving, just as getting a job or a funded Ph.D. position seems to be important for curricular and financial reasons. In another part of the interviews I asked how the information behavior of scholars and students change through international mobility. The awareness of changes in one’s own skills, when it comes to information seeking in work-related matters, is low. Mostly the researchers described the changes in their environment instead. The scholars said that their peers have more influence on their own research than the country they are working in.

Graphic: All Ph.D. Students

For some research topics mobility is not required, either because the topics are national and could be observed locally, or the working materials are easy to access no matter where the researcher is. Through the digitalization of knowledge, the second scenario largely depends on the access given by an institution. Based on the interview data I created a model of the environment providing this access to information and others factors. Infrastructure, research culture and financial resources are the three parameters influencing the researchers work directly. This triangle is shaped by the political and economic conditions of a country.

One important condition for Information science covered by this model under research culture is that English became the lingua franca our research field. If the lingua franca in information science remains English, and the English-speaking countries have a perceptibly more attractive research environment, students and scholars will move there. And their coming back cannot be controlled, for that mobility and migration are too highly subjective.

Brain drain has many negative connotations. It became a buzzword in economic and migration research to stir up the fear of losing elite researchers to competitors. If the European Research Area offers multilingual information research, it could be a strength. Especially with more support for the personal life of researchers and their families, and more funded PhD positions to tie students and scholars to the continent. The longer young people stay in a country, the more likely it is that they connect with the local research community and do not lose contact with it later. Through this contact, the loss of the researchers is not serious because the circulation of knowledge does not dry up that quickly, as the diaspora research shows.

Click here to access Hilebrand’s paper on this subject.
View Hilebrand’s master’s thesis.

Vera Hillebrand holds a BA and MA in LIS from the Berlin School of Library and Information science. She is now research associate for the research group of Information Behaviour.