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The Global People landscaping study: intercultural effectiveness in global education partnerships

By S. Reid, Stefanie Stadler and Helen Spencer-Oatey

Abstract

The Context\ud The Higher Education sector in the UK is experiencing a period of rapid and competitive internationalisation. The market for higher education, at undergraduate and post graduate levels, is now truly global: many potential students can make choices about study destinations between an enormous range of institutions in any of the five continents. The audience for research is also global, with a proliferation of domestic and international journals, a multitude of international conferences in every discipline and widely disseminated international indices, ranking universities in terms of their publication and teaching performance. In particular, the recent growth of the major Asian economies has re-shaped the profile of many UK universities both in the composition of their student bodies and also in the number, nature and importance of their overseas partnerships.\ud \ud This Study\ud It is within this context that the Global People project has been established, with the objective of providing knowledge and resources that will support those in the UK Higher Education sector who work, or wish to work, in international collaborations. Phases 1 and 2 of the eChina Programme (see Section1, Introduction) generated a great deal of learning about managing international education projects and Phase 3 of the Programme, the Global People project, was instigated with the aim of capturing this emergent knowledge for the benefit of others. This current report is a Landscaping Study that argues for the value of developing intercultural competence in order to better understand, create and manage productive and enjoyable partnerships with educational institutions outside the UK. Our arguments are supported by data from a wide range of research in disciplines as diverse as applied linguistics and international management.\ud \ud Key Findings\ud a) The need for cultural awareness and sensitivity to diversity has been well established from studies in a range of disciplines. The high risks of mishandling intercultural interaction have prompted the development of a substantial literature both on perceived cultural differences and on the competencies that might be\ud acquired to deal with this challenge. Although this concern has been driven by the financial requirements of international business, the internationalisation of Higher\ud Education has imposed similar requirements on universities engaging in international collaboration. The challenge for academics and project managers is,\ud within limited resources, to develop effective ways of identifying and acquiring the competencies needed to be interculturally effective.\ud b) Interest in the cultural values of Chinese society has never been higher as global interaction with China, through business, government, education and science\ud expands exponentially. There is a real danger in generalising about any nation’s cultural values and especially one where society and economy are changing so rapidly. However, the recent literature on China – from a number of disciplinary perspectives – argues that the influence of traditional Confucian values on Chinese\ud behaviour is still strong. This means that values such as propriety, trustworthiness and the desire for harmony are still reflected in behaviour that is more relationship-based, restrained and consensual than may be normal in Western business relations. Working with Chinese partners will still be facilitated by an understanding of the\ud centrality of social networks to Chinese private and public life and interaction in working teams will benefit from an appreciation of the Chinese respect for hierarchy and reluctance to pass judgement openly on colleagues.\ud c) The majority of the work done on the impact of culture on e-learning has focused on issues of content and materials design. Too frequently this has been a concern\ud for adaptation of existing materials for a local audience, rather than collaborative development of new materials by an intercultural team. As a consequence, there is limited insight into the complexities of designing and delivering learning programmes in different cultural contexts. What the research does show is that learning styles and preferences can vary between cultures and that this is related to the varying pedagogies dominant in particular national cultures. Understanding the implications of this diversity of pedagogies and reconciling cultural differences remain substantial challenges for those adapting or designing online learning programmes across a variety of cultures.\ud d) Research into the performance of international teams offers many insights into good management practice. Principles of team selection, development, leadership and\ud collaboration are well-established in the literature on global management and multinational partnerships. These principles recognise the importance of organisational culture, occupational culture and team roles as additional dimensions to that of national culture in influencing behaviour in project groups. International\ud collaborations are viewed as complex dynamic systems which move through a life cycle, with valuable opportunities for reflection, learning and performance\ud improvement. The implementation of transparent, and mutually agreed, norms, procedures and objectives is regarded as crucial to effective collaboration.\ud e) At the level of the individual, an extensive literature exists on the competencies required to be effective in intercultural interaction. There is an apparently high\ud degree of consensus on the core competencies that should be acquired by the culturally effective individual. Chief among these are self-awareness, cultural knowledge, language proficiency, openness, flexibility and communication skills. However, in many cases there is, at best, limited data to support the theories put forward. There is also a lack of clarity in the use of terminology, with no guarantee that researchers are using terms in the same way. The more detailed, applied research has succeeded in teasing out the knowledge and skills that may be critical in successful interaction by further breaking down broad competencies (e.g. ‘openness’) into more detailed behaviours (‘openness to new thinking; positive acceptance of different behaviour).\ud \ud A Way Forward\ud A major obstacle to accessing and utilising the current knowledge and guidance on intercultural effectiveness is its dispersion across a large number of disciplines and the\ud consequent disparity of the conceptual models and terminology employed. A framework for understanding intercultural effectiveness in international projects has a very high potential value to a wide range of professionals engaged in cross-cultural collaboration. There is substantial learning to be gained from the insights of different research disciplines but these insights need to be brought together in a way that practitioners from any field can access them without specialist knowledge. These ambitions have materialised in the form of the Toolbook, which is specifically designed to be used as a self-explanatory guide, complete with tools to stimulate awareness-raising and to encourage reflection on available resources and current practices

Topics: LB2300, HM
Publisher: University of Warwick, Centre for Applied Linguistics
Year: 2009
OAI identifier: oai:wrap.warwick.ac.uk:3270

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