While we're working busily behind the scenes here at MITN to get things up and running--and we do have some wonderful projects and collaborations in the works--I thought I'd write a little about the Warwick/UKCISA Integration Summit that I attended this past week as a wonderful example of Warwick's efforts to better develop its international outlook. This was the fourth annual summit that brings together academics, HE administrative staff, Students' Unions officers and staff, students, and UKCISA staff to address how we can better integrate home and international students.
This year's theme was 'What makes a global student?' A major strategic priority for Warwick (among many UK universities), we know that potential employers are increasingly vocal about their preference for--indeed, reliance on--graduates that can comfortably move between cultures, either physically or within international teams. Students themselves are increasingly focused on post-graduation employability and skills development, which has created tension in universities between the demands of skills-focused employers and students, and more traditional academic degree programs that provide 'softer' skills. Events like the Integration Summit are excellent ways to bring together some of the key groups that can negotiate these tensions in a productive fashion.
We were welcomed to the Summit by Warwick pro-vice chancellor Prof. Jan Palmowski and Cat Turhan, Warwick SU president, who both reflected on the three summits which preceded this one and anchored the themes of the event in personal experience and insights.
The first keynote was given by Prof. Helen Spencer-Oatey, director for the Warwick Centre for Applied Linguistics. She spoke about ongoing research conducted using the Student and International Student Barometers, where she and colleagues inserted questions regarding international/intercultural friendships and classrooms. Her findings were fascinating, demonstrating that students perceive that intercultural working groups are more important for developing intercultural skills than multicultural friendship groups--a real surprise to many of us in the audience. Having recently taught a group of students split between traditional and Further Education (FE) degree programs, Prof. Spencer-Oatey's talk made me wonder if the same might hold true not just for geographically-disparate cultural groups, but also for microcultural groups divided by class, gender, or linguistic markers: opportunities for further research!
The second keynote was given by Prof. Juliana Roth (Ludwig Maxmilians University, Munich) and provided a fascinating contrast for the UK delegates. Prof. Roth described how the German HE system--with tuition fully funded by the government for all students--has felt significantly less pressure to attract fee-paying international students than UK institutions. Prof. Roth considered some of the effects of these differing pressures; German institutions can feel less international amongst both staff and students, with support for international staff/students lacking as a result, but institutions are under less pressure to provide wide-ranging (and expensive!) support for international students. Prof. Roth raised a number of questions about how these forces might shape the German HE experience, both for home and international students.
The two keynotes were very present in my mind as I moved on to the afternoon workshops. Unfortunately, we could only attend two of the three workshops offered--by all accounts, all three were really useful. I attended Session 2: Digital Networks: Connecting Students Worldwide, which was divided into two parts. First up was Matt Lloyd (Sheffield), who presented on the University of Sheffield's Student Union project on 'Virtual Cultural Exchange', co-hosted by the Islamic University of Gaza. Students met virtually on a weekly basis for themed discussions designed to promote cultural exchange. Interactions were synchronous (using Skype) and asynchronous (using email), and culminated in a 'virtual dinner party'. Student feedback was overwhelmingly positive, demonstrating that virtual communities can react positively to structure and overcome initial social difficulties. Part 2 was led by Teresa MacKinnon (Warwick), who provided an overview of the more developed Clavier project, which now connects over a thousand students around the world. Theresa discussed how we can use examples like the Clavier project to better integrate Online Intercultural Exchange (OIE) into more traditional classroom settings. The scope of the Clavier project and its organic growth far beyond the original parameters invisaged by the project team was inspiring, especially for those of us using virtual classroom tools.
Following lunch, I attended Session 3: 'Gone International: Enhancing Intercultural Competence through Study Abroad', which was also divided into two parts. Part 1 looked at the UK Higher Education International Unit's report on study abroad impact, and was presented by Leo Boe (formerly the Warwick SU president, now working for UKHIEU). Leo's talk was astonishing and painted a very clear picture: study abroad improves student experience, achievement, and employment in virtually every aspect. As a former study abroad participant, I can attest to its transformative effect myself, but it was wonderful to hear so many similar stories. Less encouraging was how few UK students take up these opportunities: 1.1% (as compared to about 4% of US undergraduates). More well-off students also tended to take up study abroad opportunities, and this is an area of real personal concern; it'd be really useful to think about how we can support and encourage BME and otherwise underrepresented student groups to take up study abroad programs. Part 2 was led by Emily Lim (Warwick International Office) and Sophie Reissner-Roubicek (Warwick Centre for Applied Linguistics), who discussed the CAL/IO collaborative effort to produce a supporting program for Warwick study abroad students. In addition to showing us the fantastic online preparatory/reflective module taken by study abroad students, Emily and Sophie were able to talk through how they were able to interview study abroad students and gain really valueable insights into the personal effects of study abroad. As a model for approaching intercultural communication education and study abroad support, Sophie and Emily's talk was extraordinary, and if you have the opportunity to check out their online module, I can't recommend it strongly enough.
As I mentioned above, I didn't get to check out Session 1, but here's the abstract, taken from the day's program:
"Succeeding in a Global Job Market: Articulating Intercultural Experiences for Increased Employability.
This interactive session will explore research from NUS UK and NUS Scotland on global employment and employability, looking at both international and UK students. It will draw on good practice from across the University of London Colleges and showcase how Careers services such as UCL, Kings College London, Royal Holloway and Queen Mary University of London train students to be employees in a global workplace.
Delegates attending the session will gain an understanding of global employment and employability for both international and home students. The workshop will provide a broader understanding of how we can help students recognise where they have gained an international outlook and intercultural skills from a year abroad or overseas internship, and how this can be marketed to potential international employers.
The session will also invite delegates to consider how we can equip students for an international job-search and hear about some of the ways this is being done at the University of London.
Joy Elliot Bowman, NUS and Abi Sharma,The Careers Group, University of London"
Unfortunately I had to run and miss the final wrap-up discussions of best practice, but I've been thinking for the past few days about how to bring in some of the discussions to my own teaching and research, as well as that of the wider MITN efforts. I was really struck that all this talk about the 'global student', virtual classroom tools, MOOCs, and intercultural experience really boils down to the overwhelming--even primary--importance of providing multicultural and international learning environments for allof our students. To provide these, we'll need to think much more carefully about how HE institutions operate in restricted funding landscapes to provide organic, authentic, and above all, accessiblemulticultural experiences for students--and just as importantly, provide training for support and academic staff. The Monash-Warwick Alliance is a great model for how institutions can provide these experiences in an austerity-friendly format, since both instutitions gain access to the others' resources for a fraction of the cost of investing in branch campuses or international residential programs (for example). Got any other thoughts? Get in touch!