International and transnational academic mobility is not a new phenomenon in the UK higher education (HE). However, little is known about the experience of migrant academics and the challenges and opportunities they experience as transnational academics. This paper discusses the insights from an analytic autoethnographic study that was designed within a social constructionist framework and narrative approach. It explored how the migrant academics perceive their academic journeys within the UK HE. Drawing on data from five narrative interviews with migrant academics in the UK, and the author’s autoethnographic narratives (2016-16) of being a migrant academic, this paper deconstructs the deficit construction of the migrant academic as the ‘support-seeking stranger’. The literature often presents migrant academics as cultural and academic strangers, struggling to adjust into UK HE, due to their inadequate prior pedagogic experience, values and academic behaviours that are not appreciated within the UK HE (Hsieh, 2012).
The themes emerged from template analysis revealed that the migrant academics’ experience encompass both similar and very distinct ways of being, thinking and relating to alternative epistemic views. Using their transnational academic capital, they sophisticatedly manipulate their identities (Amadasi and Holliday, 2018) by negotiating and managing the grand narratives about academic selfhood in the UK and their own personal narratives of being academics. This on-going, traumatic, complex process of identification disempowers and empowers them at the same time yet enabling agency within an increasingly marketized neoliberal system. Their openness to alternative thinking, agility and resilience allow them to shift their identities appropriately and plan and reach their targets.
The study sends key messages to policy makers, teachers and senior managers in the UK higher education with regards to the ways in which the migrant academics can be utilized as resources to advance the process of reciprocal internationalisation. It proposes that alternative thinking of alternative practices is an urgent need to move beyond the discourse of diversity to develop genuinely global universities (de Sousa Satos, 2012).