Developing students’ intercultural competencies through ‘Internationalisation at Home’ pedagogic practices

There are a variety of reasons for developing students’ intercultural competencies. The chief one, advocated by accreditation bodies such as AACSB, employers and government organisations, is to prepare students to become global professionals. Other reasons include the need to attract students, enhance the quality of the student experience and develop students’ citizenship abilities.

Two typical responses used by universities to develop students’ intercultural competencies is through offering study abroad programmes and having an international student presence on campus. However, only 7 per cent of students on business and administrative programmes study abroad (Universities UK International, 2018) and various research has found that intercultural competencies do not automatically develop by having international students on campus.

Pedagogic Practice for Internationalisation at Home

One solution to this is to utilise Internationalisation at Home (I@H) pedagogic practices to purposefully develop students’ intercultural competence. I@H has a number of elements that aim to develop students’ international and intercultural competencies. These are predominantly centred on the formal curricula, and specifically on pedagogic practice, as it is the only means of ensuring that all students are included.

I@H utilises a range of pedagogic practices such as international and intercultural role plays, reading, case studies, guest lecturers and virtual mobility exercises.  Another element entails pedagogical intervention through learning tasks that increase contact through group activities with students from differing backgrounds, such as internationals and nationals. This also extends to learning tasks that involve local community groups. I@H encourages pedagogic practices that are experiential in nature, with the academic facilitating meaningful interactions and ensuring that students have equal status. The academic should encourage engagement and reflection, to ensure that the cultural diversity present in the classroom is explored and taken advantage of.

I@H practice perceives the academic as a role model, who is capable of developing an intense learning experience. The academic achieves this through recognising multiple worldviews and using more than one worldview in their pedagogic practice. The academic should demonstrate open-mindedness and respect for students’ differing cultural backgrounds.

Pedagogic practice in I@H embraces those not born in the national country being recognised and used as a resource. By providing examples from their own country, culture and work situations, these students enrich international and intercultural viewpoints and increase their own competencies and knowledge.

Examples of I@H

At Leeds University Business School, staff have implemented a number of formal curricular and co-curricular pedagogic practices to align with our mission statement and the Faculty’s Student Education Internationalisation Strategy. For example:

  • A professional development workshop during induction on how to work effectively in intercultural teams, which includes students providing communication tips for working with someone from their culture and culminates in a fun spaghetti bridge building task to put their new skills into practice.
  • An academic skills module, which purposefully assigns students into teams by gender, country, region, undergraduate subject. The teams then work together on formative and summative assessments throughout the academic year and must rotate the leadership.
  • The Global Classroom entails students working in multi-university teams and then participating in a live online assessment.
  • Personal tutorials that are tailored towards home and international students and signposting resources and activities that are tailored to their nationality.
  • Global Insights Wednesdays, whereby students participate in icebreaker activities based on developing an intercultural competencies and listen to an informal presentation from a fellow student about their home country.

Overall students are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of developing their international and intercultural competencies and are enthusiastic when presented with pedagogic initiatives that support this. They are also capable of recording their participation in such initiatives in job applications.

The pedagogic practices that worked well were those that were sustainable either via offering a number of follow-up sessions or including an element of reflection. In pedagogic initiatives that involved groupwork or during personal tutorial discussions, many students demonstrated ethno-relative (Bennett, 1993) practices towards those from a different background to themselves and in some cases, adapted their behaviour and communication style accordingly.

Feedback from these initiatives makes reference to students feeling more integrated into the university and they expressed great pleasure in making friends with someone from a different background to theirs. They are able to initiate communications with students from other cultures and recognise more subtle differences in nationality and culture. Students who participated in pedagogic initiatives found them enjoyable, especially when they involved more student-centred initiatives.

Take up for co-curricular initiatives was predominantly by international students who welcomed opportunities to develop their competencies. But timings of co-curricular initiatives need to be well-planned and promoting such opportunities needs to be given a good deal of thought to allow these to compete with other university opportunities. Home students’ participation was lower in general, which perhaps reflects the need to articulate the benefits of pedagogic initiatives in more depth to them e.g. through a case study or Alumnus guest speaker.

Louisa Hill in an Associate Professor at Leeds University Business School. Louisa is also the facilitator on the upcoming CMBE Workshop, 'Inclusive Teaching Practices for Diverse Cohorts'.