Marsden Funding for skilled migration research

Nov 5, 2015

New Zealand has the highest skilled emigration rate in the OECD at 24.2 percent, yet our understanding of the forces driving our skilled graduates overseas is limited.

Isabelle Sin, a researcher at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research Trust - a not-for-profit, non-partisan research institute - has been awarded Marsden Funding for a three year investigation into recent tertiary graduates and their domestic and international migration.

The research will examine whether financial incentives provided by the government reduce brain drain, and how migration decisions and the ability of graduates to move to job opportunities are affected by their wealth.

Dr Sin is an expert in international flows of knowledge and will work on the project with Associate Professor Ran Abramitzky of Stanford University, where Dr Sin received her PhD in 2011.

“International migration is among the most momentous decisions an individual can make, and is a major force in shaping societies,” said Dr Sin. “Economic models predict that migration responds to financial incentives, but there’s scant evidence of the effect of financial incentives on migration decisions.”

The research is aimed at improving understanding of the drivers of skilled migration decisions, in order to provide policymakers with reliable evidence on which to base migration and education policies in NZ.

To answer her research questions, Dr Sin will use features of New Zealand’s student support system that create groups of graduates who differ in their wealth or financial gains from migration but are otherwise comparable. In doing so, her research will also test the claim that student loans drive graduates overseas, evaluate whether interest-free loans help NZ to retain graduates, and assess how the student support system affects students’ outcomes.

“Answers to these questions are crucial for understanding the role of tertiary education in the development of NZ’s society and economy,” said Dr Sin.

Isabelle Sin joined Motu as a Fellow in January 2012 after completing her Ph.D in Economics at Stanford University, California. She has been awarded a Fast Start grant of $300,000 over three years from the Marsden Fund. Fast Start funding is awarded to emerging researchers to develop their own interests in the research community.

Her research areas are applied microeconomics and economic history, particularly the fields of the economics of knowledge and its international and domestic diffusion. Her interests also include migrants as carriers of ideas. In her doctoral dissertation, she studied flows of books translations between countries to gain insight into the international flow of ideas codified in books.

Isabelle graduated from the University of Canterbury in 2002 with an Honours degree in economics. She then worked at the Reserve Bank of New Zealand and Motu before leaving New Zealand to pursue her doctoral studies. This is her first Marsden Fund grant.

Ironically, Isabelle was not part of the team at Motu who recently investigated the success of researchers post-Marsden Funding, but she is confident the grant will boost her future publications by at least 3 to 5 percent.