Leveraging Australia's Diverse Student Tertiary Population to Increase Global Competency

Ben attended the OECD forum. He is a third year Bachelor of Commerce student at the University of Melbourne and is studying economics, finance and computer science. 

Abstract

Given the multicultural nature of Australia’s workforce, tertiary students must develop skills of global competency, vital for work in a diverse labour market. This paper defines global competency and breaks it into the core components of knowledge, skill and attitude that can be individually addressed by universities. Australian universities, utilising their uniquely diverse student make up, should be better promoting each element of the competency through educational and other programs. This paper will provide recommendations to Australian tertiary institutions, highlighting ways in which diverse student bodies can be better engaged to promote the learning of global competency.

Proposed Recommendations
 

Clearly define global competency and create a shared vision of the importance of intercultural competency

Universities must have a clear framework for understanding global competency, and must create a university-wide attitude of appreciation towards it. This will require changing many outdated beliefs within faculties and incentivizing students to engage with the vision by promoting its benefits to the student body.

Promoting greater understanding and knowledge of other cultures by including global perspectives to the curriculum, design-learning tasks that encourage cross-cultural learning and train and develop university faculty cultural competency levels

Course content must be internationalized, reflecting various perspectives and cultures. Clearly articulate cultural learning as a part of learning objectives highlights its value to students, monitoring and rewarding the uptake of cultural engagement. Trained globally competent staff will better be able to facilitate learning within a culturally diverse environment and will be able to promote the acquisition of global concepts and understanding within the classroom. 

Foster collaboration between domestic and international students both inside and outside of the classroom

Universities must utilise their diverse student bodies to promote global competency learning. Through formal curriculum, international and domestic students should be encouraged to communicate with each other in carefully facilitated group work and classroom discussion. Outside the classroom, cross-cultural friendships within a diverse cohort can be facilitated though cross-cultural social and extracurricular activities.

Create a shared vision of the importance of global competency      

Create a university-wide attitude of appreciation towards global competency. This will require changing many outdated beliefs within faculties and incentivizing students to engage with the vision by promoting its benefits to the student body.

Introduction

As levels of migration and globalisation increases, cross cultural economic and social interaction is influencing workplaces globally. As the workforce becomes more diverse, citizens must develop the skills to be able to work with different cultures in order to thrive. At the university level, this means that Australian students must learn new communication and intercultural social skills so that they are equipped with the skills for a socially diverse and global world.

Global competency describes the capacity of an individual ‘to analyse global and intercultural issues critically and from multiple perspectives’ and the ability to ‘engage in open, appropriate and effective interactions with others from different backgrounds’ (OECD, 2016). Whilst global competency itself can be intangible, one can break the competency into certain behaviours that can be measured and understood.

Universities have the opportunity to increase levels of global competency by implementing strategies utilising the diverse cohorts on campus. Indeed, there is agreement among academics that diversity on campus is a valuable resource to be utilised to teach intercultural learning, vital for students engaging in a globalised world (Carroll & Leask, 2011).

Defining Global Competency

The OECD in its report ‘Global Competency for an Inclusive World’, which draws upon the work of the Council of Europe, uses a framework to break Global Competency into three distinct measurable dimensions:

Firstly, an individual must have an understanding and knowledge of cultural issues. They must both know about other cultures and be able to comprehend and appreciate such knowledge.

Secondly, an individual must possess the skills to interact with other cultures: the ability to communicate with other cultures, appreciate other viewpoints and relate to different backgrounds in practice. However, knowledge and skills are not enough. To become truly globally competent, an individual must thirdly, possess the right attitude: one of openness and respect for other cultures and backgrounds. It is only when an individual possesses all three qualities that they become globally competent.

Universities must appreciate each element and address them separately when endeavoring to develop global competency skills. It is vital that students develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes to engage with diversity (Carroll & Leask, 2011). In adopting a measure of global competency and by defining its elements, the value of implemented programs and strategies can also be measured (Allen & Dana, 2008).

There has been much agreement amongst scholars and researchers that if multicultural education is to be implemented and taught successfully, institutional changes have to be made (Banks, 2016). Practically, global competency must be placed on the university agenda so that staff and administration feel empowered to adopt and promote the concept. Campuses must mold both the formal and informal curriculum within a dynamic institutional culture of internationalization (Leask, 2009).

International students and Australia’s diverse student population

Modern Australia forms a diverse multicultural society, a ‘classical country of immigration’(Castles, 1992). Indeed, as a nation, cultural diversity is more or less part of the national self-interest’ (Verkuyten, 2013). Within the higher education sector, Australian university campuses reflect this multiculturalism, particularly with the high share of international students. Indeed, according to the Australian Government, Department of Education and Training, Australia has seen international student numbers increase from 125,000 in 2002 to 307,000 students in 2016. Foreign students are attracted to Australia’s ability to offer a western English education within Asia. Because of Australia’s exportation of higher education, Australian universities are increasingly becoming ‘zones of escalating cultural contact’ (Doherty & Singh, 2004).

International students being themselves a product of ‘global cultural flows’ and various cultural experiences, have the ability to contribute diverse perspectives and bring a unique richness to Australian universities (Doherty & Singh, 2004). Whilst these students have the ability to transform classrooms into ‘microcosms of the world’, the presence of international students alone will not necessarily translate into intercultural relationships and understanding (Leask, 2009). Indeed, often students rarely interact with other cultures, with many universities adopting a ‘hoping’ approach to the interaction between domestic and international students. If students are to learn to become globally competent, they must be motivated and pushed out of their cultural comfort zones (Carroll & Leask, 2011). Universities must take the initiative to utilise the ‘natural resource’ that is the international student body and start tapping its potential to promote global learning and competency within campuses (Siczek, 2015).

Promoting greater understanding and knowledge of other cultures

In order to attain global competency, students must firstly have knowledge and understanding of other cultures. One way in which this can potentially be achieved, is through internationalising the university curriculum.  This would involve the addition of international elements to a course, usually in the form of international example of concepts and principles (Van Gyn, Schuerholz-Lehr, Caws & Preece, 2009). Cultural awareness is emphasized in the form of content integration, whereby teachers use examples and content from a variety of cultures to teach coursework from a variety of perspectives (Banks, 2016). In this way, students are taught to view issues from a broad range of perspectives, and not just through a single dominating viewpoint (Doherty & Singh, 2004). In expanding course discussions, international students may be provided with more opportunities to share their experiences, opening up the perspectives of other students within the classroom (Carroll & Leask, 2011).

Ultimately however, it is not practical to teach about all populations and cultures, rather, students must to taught to inquire about how values, beliefs and behaviours differ amongst people and understand that these differences result from a variety of factors (Betancourt, 2006). Collaborative learning processes, stressing the importance of intercultural learning and awareness of one’s cultural surroundings, must be facilitated for students. By consciously planning to teach students about cultures, universities will begin to see students analyse and appreciate the diverse student body they find themselves in. Universities must ensure that their teaching is globally engaged and that there are no gaps in university cultural knowledge, often bought about when teaching becomes entrenched in a set of traditional principles and practices (Bourn, 2011). Perspectives of teaching, learning, and course planning must be updated to ensure that traditional methods do not become outdated for more diverse contemporary student population (Van Gyn, Schuerholz-Lehr, Caws & Preece, 2009).

The implementation of such changes with college and university educators however, can often be difficult to achieve. Reluctance often stems from a lack of understanding of what internationalization of curriculum truly means and in many cases is the result of a lack of the pedagogical knowledge or skills to make the sophisticated changes required (Van Gyn, Schuerholz-Lehr, Caws & Preece, 2009). Indeed. if students are to truly learn about other cultures, staff themselves need to be equipped with particular knowledge and skills to understand the cultural forces that have shaped their discipline over time as well as the ability to manage and understand diversity in the classroom. Intercultural competent staff can then assume the role of intercultural educator, providing students with cultural competent opinions and knowledge (Leask, 2009). Trained staff will be in the position to reconceptualise their course and enact global minded learning (Carroll & Leask, 2011).

Fostering collaboration through practical integration of domestic and international students

It is vital that education moves beyond simply increasing knowledge, to developing the acquisition of globally competent skills, including the ability to interact with others from different backgrounds and in culturally different situations (Allen & Dana, 2008). The multicultural nature of the tertiary student population, which can be viewed as “global contact zones”, provide an ideal setting for universities to teach these skills in practice (Doherty & Singh, 2004).

Interaction between domestic and international students in class is vital in teaching cultural skills. Teaching must occur in a way that allows greater student interaction in the classroom through open discussions. Increased levels of communication amongst international and domestic students in and of itself will provide students will the opportunity to develop skills conversing with other cultures. A recent example is the method of structured controversy, a form of debate in which students discuss cultural issues through in depth discussions. Such practices are shown to be effective in teaching skills of cultural competency (Allen & Dana, 2008).

Group projects also provide the ideal environment for students of different cultural backgrounds to work together. Group work must follow some key principles in order to be more effective in a multicultural context.  Groups should be randomly assigned to ensure that they represent a spread of cultures and nationalities. Furthermore, the aims of developing intercultural competency should be clearly articulated in the learning objects of the work, to bring awareness and stress the importance of objectives (Ryan, 2012). If cultural competency building is not linked to the learning goals of the work, students have little incentive to participate and may even view cross cultural communication as a threat to their academic learning goals (Carroll & Leask, 2011). It is thus vital that assessment incentivizes cultural competence and reward students for higher levels of cross-cultural interaction (Leask, 2009).

Outside of specific group projects, tasks both structured and unstructured must be designed so that they enforce a meaningful exchange of cultural information and interaction between students. Students must be shown the purpose and value of such activities (Leask, 2009). More broadly, learning environments must be flexible, rather than ones where students are expected to adapt to a monoculture practices. Students must be assisted in their development of the required global competency skills and staff must be careful to ensure that class dynamics remain inclusive (Doherty & Singh, 2004). In following this, students will be able to explore similarities and differences, seeing past cultural barriers, and will be able to capitalise on a multicultural learning environment (Ryan, 2012).

Outside of the classroom, ensuring successful cross-cultural engagement throughout a university’s informal curriculum provides students with the opportunity to develop cross-cultural communication skills outside of a formal context. Through facilitated extra curriculum activities, students can be given a further chance to interact within a diverse cohort (Carroll & Leask, 2011). Many academic staff however, often report that they face significant difficulties getting international and domestic students to work together. It was found that home students, whilst valuing interaction, are not always prepared to engage with international student in practice (Leask, 2009). Indeed students must have the right attitude (the third dimension of global competency) to truly engage.

Creating a shared vision of the need for global competency

For global competence to be truly learned, an attitude of respect for other cultures and global competency must be fostered. Students do not always possess an open attitude and often those exposed to cultural difference, can become critical of other cultures, especially when they are seen as unknown. For many students, global competency is not a priority and time getting to know other cultures can be viewed as time wasted (Carroll & Leask, 2011). To manage this, universities much place an emphasis on understanding this difference and may need to stress the importance of global competency for future work and employability (Council of Europe, 2014).

For students inclined to practice their knowledge and skills in global competency, it is imperative that they are able to do so freely within an environment that mirrors similar principles. Thus, a belief in global competency must be integrated across the multiple levels of education institutions (Allen & Dana, 2008). To do this, universities can develop a shared vision and respect for cultural awareness and understanding. Stakeholders across the institution need to engage with a core agenda stressing the importance of cross cultural interaction and learning (Leask, 2009). The differing spheres of both domestic and international cultures must be celebrated and respected within the campus (Doherty & Singh, 2004). In this process, universities must change their attitudes on culture itself and inhibiting views must be addressed. For instance, there can often be misleading perceptions amongst academic staff that international students are unable to mix with domestic counterparts (Leask, 2009). Likewise, it is not uncommon for teachers to expect international students to acclimatize to western principles and standards of scholarly conduct. Indeed, conducting programs in pure ‘western academic tradition’, would be to deny the international student body any transformative power, ignoring differing perceptions and opinions.

Such changes can be challenging, with universities having to address the status quo and question their current beliefs and practices. Indeed, obtaining cultural competency comes with obtaining the values and attitudes of self-awareness, willingness to learn and humility (Allen & Dana, 2008). Developing an openness to global competency, requires institutions to self-reflect and become critically aware of how their culture influences what they do, how they teach and how they respond to students and other staff (Doherty & Singh, 2004). To be truly effective, changes in attitudes and practices must be systematic and sustained over time, requiring ongoing attention and continuous monitoring to ensure progress is being made in the right direction.

Conclusion

Global competency is often overlooked by universities, despite its vital importance as a 21st century skill needed for Australian students as they face a diverse workforce and likely global engagement across a career. Indeed, given the diverse nature of Australian campuses, with a strong international student presence, universities should be doing more to promote intercultural learning.  By defining global competency, tertiary institutions can target core components of the competency to teach students.  Universities must create a shared vision around global competency, placing it firmly on their agenda and ensuring that staff and faculty members are aware and comfortable with the competency. They must also implement a series of strategies to make students more cultural aware and experienced, including altering teaching methods and bringing cultures together inside and outside of the classroom. The importance of culture must be contextualized for both students and staff from all faculties. If universities do not act now, Australian students will find that they have missed an opportunity to develop cultural competency whilst spending time in uniquely diverse student environments. 

Reference List

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