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The internationalization of higher education – Instalment 2

Options:     Print Version - The internationalization of higher education – Instalment 2, part 3 Print view

Article Sections

  1. Creating a global brand
  2. Criticisms of internationalism
  3. Some recommendations for good practice
  4. Summary
  5. References

Some recommendations for good practice

What can help international ventures succeed?

Inspirational leaders

Top priority, according to Hijlkema, is to have a "champion" at management level, who not only has a vision of what needs to be done, but who can also ensure that the necessary resources are provided. Where would NYU Abu Dhabi be without the vision of John Sexton, for example?

Also important among faculty are champions to influence by enthusiasm and example, and help dispel resistance.

Cultural sensitivity

Richard Lihua is director of China programmes at Salford Business School, and is a Chinese national and permanent resident of the UK. He believes that some faculty lack cultural sensitivity when dealing with foreign students, and have insufficient knowledge of how to operate business in an international context (visit his interview with Emerald to read his comments). This, however, can be helped by exposure to the culture concerned.

For example, Salford's China Symposium was a university-wide event to capture the full scale of activities in all faculties with colleagues in Chinese universities. One result was that participating faculty gained a fuller cultural understanding which they could then pass on to students.

Other schools have "immersion programmes" for staff, whereby they can travel internationally or undertake projects abroad with the objective of increasing international understanding.

At Robson College in the USA, faculty bursaries of $2,000 to $3,500 are offered to staff so that they can conduct research projects, travel internationally, set up exchange agreements or host speakers.

Teaching materials likewise should reflect local knowledge and circumstances. Textbooks, and that staple of business school education, the case study, tend to be written from an American perspective. Examples from small-to-medium-sized enterprises may be more appropriate in countries without multinational penetration.

Faculty need to be aware of case material that draws on research into other areas of the world, produced by leading business schools such as IESE Business School (Instituto de Estudios Superiores de la Empresa), IMD (International Institute for Management Development), INSEAD and CEIBS (China Europe International Business School).

The Global Business School Network, which helps business schools achieve international standards by organizing collaborative partnerships with top global schools, is helping to create locally sourced case studies.

Attention must be paid to culturally inappropriate references. For example, one lecturer at an American university produced slides suggesting use of the term "partner" or "life partner" as less exclusive than "husband" or "wife". However, in the Arabian desert, where homosexual acts are illegal, this was met with a different reaction to that on the campus where it was originally used (Lewin, 2008).

Buy-in from administrative and support staff

However important teaching faculty and materials are, there is a need to think beyond the classroom to students' entire requirements on campus. Do the administrative and support staff, particularly in those departments involved with student support, have sufficient cultural sensitivity and language skills, and the experience or imagination to know what it must be like to be away from home?

Hijlkema believes that,

"we have to go down into the depths of what they want and what they need".

This may be difficult if the predominant culture is one of fear of intrusion into private problems. However, simply by virtue of being away from their home environment, international students are likely to need more support, not less.

Angela Melley, faculty international student learning officer at the Faculty of Law, Business & Social Sciences, University of Glasgow, also emphasizes the importance of sensitivity and cultural awareness on the part of support staff, pointing out that up to 50 per cent of student contact can be with this group.

Some universities offer extensive social programmes for the benefit of their overseas' students. One college near London ran an international club and regularly took students away for walking trips at weekends. Hijlkema herself, when she was based at a business school in Barcelona, used to invite all foreign students to her flat for a cocktail party each semester.

Where a different lingua franca is used, thought needs to be given to all who will come into contact with the students. Take the restaurant: is the menu translated and can students understand the waitresses?

Another thorny issue can be admissions: some institutions, under pressure to increase numbers, unwittingly admit students who are inadequately skilled in the language of instruction, and who are shunned by their peers for group work.

Being specific about requirements when dealing with partnering organizations, and interviewing as opposed to taking students in bulk, helps.

At Estonian Business School, a member of staff with considerable experience of China now interviews Chinese students and gives them a language test. As a result, fewer, but better students are admitted.

Another approach is to give preparatory language classes to bring the students up to speed.

Cultural awareness training

Some institutions in the UK are instigating cultural awareness programmes, in an effort to improve the experience of overseas students.

Angela Melley has given training in cultural awareness in a London college and is now based at the University of Glasgow. She encourages staff to look beyond the less obvious aspects of culture such as language, dress, etc. to issues such as learning styles, values, attitude to work, task planning, money, body language, motivation, patterns of interpersonal relationships, and so on. Such awareness can inform teaching styles.

The UK Council for International Student Affairs (UKISA) publishes useful cultural awareness training resources: these can be found at http://www.ukcisa.org.uk/about/material_media/pubs_crosscultural.php. Melley particularly recommends the cross-cultural training manual (Lago and Bart, 2003).

The following key strategies are recommended in a handout which Melley provided for attendees at staff development sessions at West Thames College in London. They apply particularly to those for whom English is a second language and are summarized below:

  • Structure of the class should be clear and logical; include signposting, explaining what is to come and summarizing what has been completed; cross-refer to other sources and to what has previously been covered.
  • Aids – provide information on aims, objectives, etc., also key vocabulary and a glossary of frequently used terms, and visual material to complement spoken and written input; repeat oral instructions and have these in writing as a back-up.
  • Questions – encourage these, and help students to practise asking questions; when asking questions yourself, explain what sort of answer you are looking for i.e. right/wrong, opinion, etc.; use directed questions at named students if you feel that someone is not participating fully in the class.
  • Environment – generate a warm, friendly atmosphere; politely explain acceptable classroom behaviour (e.g. requesting rather than demanding teacher's attention); always speak clearly; in pair work, combine native and non-native speakers, but be aware that some students may not be used to it; offer praise; use humour to break down barriers.
  • Assessment – encourage writing early on, so that you can assess what help may be needed; clearly explain marking criteria both verbally and in writing.
  • Team teaching – covertly observe any team teaching partner so that you can see whether you have the same, or different, issues with the group

Another strategy is to develop intranet banks of information from staff and students describing their own cross-cultural experiences – these can also be used to generate material for teaching, training, marketing and so on.