New Zealand academic recruitment ‘back to normal’

And research job opportunities are booming outside universities, AI-fuelled study finds

February 26, 2022
bounce back balls illustrating return of recruitment for research positions in Australia and New Zealand to pre-pandemic levels
Source: iStock

Academic recruitment in New Zealand has rebounded to pre-pandemic levels and employment opportunities for researchers are booming outside academia, according to a report.

Job advertisements in New Zealand higher education collapsed in the early months of the pandemic, tumbling from an average of about 160 a month in 2019 to just 60 in May 2020. But they recovered to 2019 levels within a few months and have since soared as high as 260 in October 2021.

Researchers used machine learning and natural language processing algorithms to sift through data on millions of advertisements, finding that New Zealand academic recruitment had followed a similar trajectory as in Australia.

Report author Will Grant said that while the academic jobs lost during the coronavirus crisis had not necessarily been restored, recruitment for new jobs had bounced back to normal levels.

“We had huge uncertainty in the early days of the pandemic, and that’s largely gone,” said Dr Grant, a senior lecturer in science communication at the Australian National University. “Hopefully, we’ll be moving back to a growth phase in universities.”

The analysis confirmed signs of recovery in Australian academic recruitment, initially reported last August. Advertisements for jobs in Australian academia have rallied above the 2019 average of around 1,000 a month, after slumping to just 290 in April 2020.

The picture outside academia is even more buoyant, with job advertisements for researchers tracking far higher than before the pandemic. In Australia, they peaked at about 36,000 in October 2021 – well above the 2019 average of about 15,000 – while advertisements in New Zealand in 2021 hovered at almost double the 2019 norm of about 1,800.

Dr Grant said the pandemic had stimulated growth in research jobs as well as logistical positions in areas such as online retail. “Supermarkets obviously [are] employing more people at the coalface, stacking our trolleys for us. But they’re also employing a lot more people at the research end, thinking about their place in the market.”

The analysis found that recruitment of researchers was particularly strong in supermarkets, grocery stores, insurance, social assistance and scientific research services.

While more than half of Australians and New Zealanders with doctoral qualifications are thought to work in universities, the study found that job advertisements for research positions outside higher education outnumbered those in academia by around 14 to one.

“The economy of the 21st century, regardless of your sector, absolutely has research in it,” Dr Grant said. “More and more people are picking that up.”

He said doctoral students and graduates should take note. “We want people with the esoteric Jane Austen PhD or whatever to know that there are great jobs out there. They might have their sights set on academia, but lots of great jobs are research oriented.”

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