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Analysing Scientific Mobility and Collaboration in MENA

The preprint ‘Beyond the Western Core-Periphery Model: Analysing Scientific Mobility and Collaboration in the Middle East and North Africa’ by J. El Ouahi, N. Robinson-Garcia and R. Costas is now available. 

In the words of the physicist Julius Robert Oppeinheimer, ‘the best way to send information is to wrap it up in a person’. The mobility of highly proficient individuals is a key mechanism by which institutions acquire knowledge and stimulate creativity andinnovation. They can serve as knowledge transmitters by transferring their prior knowledge to their receiving locations. Additionally, they can intermediate connections with specialists known in prior locations.    

From a science policy perspective, collaboration and mobility studies improve the understanding of policy makers and research managers when assessing the scientific output of their countries or their organizations in a wider terrain of globalization. In the context of global mobility, nation states have developed their immigration policies to attract distinguished scholars and young researchers.

Our study investigates the scientific mobility and international collaboration networks in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region between 2008 and 2017. By using affiliation metadata available in scientific publications, we analyse international scientific mobility flows and collaboration linkages.

Three complementary approaches allow us to obtain a detailed characterization of scientific mobility:

– First, we uncover the main destinations and origins of mobile scholars for each country. The MENA region is highly connected with Europe based on the number of mobile scientists. Europe is indeed the first mobility destination and origin with 37% of the flows from/to MENA, followed by North America (24%), MENA (20%) and Asia (16%). These findings suggest a relatively high level of intra-MENA flows. Oceania, Africa, and South America show a much lower circulation of scholars (less than 3%). When looking at specific MENA countries, some cases stand out. For example, France is the preferred destination for scholars originating from its former colonies in MENA, specifically Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. North African countries have also strong ties with other countries in Europe such as Spain, Germany, Switzerland and Netherlands. United Kingdom is one of the preferred destinations for GCC countries such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. Scholars from Egypt and Jordan have mostly migrated to Saudi Arabia, ahead of United States. Researchers from Pakistan migrate mainly from and to China. Iraq and, to a lesser extent, Iran have major flows from and to Malaysia. In the case of Iran, it is worth reminding that the political sanctions from the United States have had an impact on the scientific international collaboration

We observed that countries such as Qatar, Iraq, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates are world leaders in terms of relative attraction of foreign scientists. These five countries are the only MENA countries having a High-Income level as per the World Bank (June 2019). To a lesser degree, Morocco, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan also have a higher share of incoming scientists (~63%) than outgoing ones. When comparing the shares of emigrants and immigrants, Iran, Tunisia and Syria are the only countries which show an overall deficit of researchers.


– Second, we introduced the academic age. The average academic age of migrant scholars in MENA was about 12.4 years. The academic age group 6-to-10 years is the most common for both emigrant and immigrant scholars. Immigrants are relatively younger than emigrants, except for Iran, Palestine, Lebanon, and Turkey. Scholars who migrated to Gulf Cooperation Council countries, Jordan and Morocco were in average younger than emigrants by 1.5 year from the same countries.


– Third, we analyse gender differences. We observe a clear gender gap: Male scholars represent the largest group of migrants in MENA. Tunisia and Lebanon have the highest shares of female emigrants, 22% and 21% respectively. They are followed by Turkey, Algeria, Morocco and Iran with around 17% of female scholars. Pakistan and Egypt have a share of around 11% of female migrant scientists. In the remaining countries, female authors represent shares below 10% with the lowest shares (about 7%) reached in Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Libya.

We conclude discussing the policy relevance of the scientific mobility and collaboration aspects.

The results of this study are expected to inform science policy makers in the MENA region, by providing them with additional evidence about the mobility patterns in the region, thus providing better and more contextualized interpretations to the policies regarding the mobility of the scholarly workforce in the MENA countries. Moreover, the results deployed in this study can also work as supporting evidence for policy makers from other countries and regions (e.g. Africa, EU, North America, Latin America, etc.) to understand the development of the MENA region regarding the internationalization of its workforce and its outcomes.

To read the full text: Beyond the Western Core-Periphery Model: Analysing Scientific Mobility and Collaboration in the Middle East and North Africa

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