Cultural diversity: are we doing enough?

This source preferred by Chris Shiel

Authors: Shiel, C.

Start date: April 2006

This paper will present work undertaken as part of the HE Leadership Foundation Fellowship. The aim of the Fellowship was to develop a change strategy so that by 2010, all Bournemouth University (BU) graduates are aware of and confident in, dealing with issues relating to equity, justice, diversity and sustainable development. BU has addressed diversity through an approach that focuses on the development of ‘global perspectives’ and ‘global citizenship’: the ‘global citizen’ operates effectively in the context of diversity, and is empowered to bring about change to enhance society. The importance of this development is highlighted by research undertaken into graduate employability: recruiters require graduates who: have the ability to deal sensitively with cross-cultural diversity; are ‘cross-culturally aware’ and; have a broader ‘world view’ (Archer 2005; Shiel et al 2005). UK policy sets a ‘push factor’ for this agenda, particularly from DfES (‘Putting the World into World-class Education’, DfES 2004). But to what extent does the curriculum address the drivers? Is it enough to say that because we have international students, learners will come to understand diversity? The rise in international student numbers has certainly resulted in greater diversity in the classroom; how effectively does this cultural diversity enrich the learning experience of both UK and international students? Do we expect cross-cultural learning to happen by osmosis, or do we need to be more proactive? Do staff encourage students to work collaboratively with their international colleagues, as one way, of challenging perspectives and questioning euro-centric views? Do our UK students really appreciate what they could learn from international peers; or do we and they, expect international students to adapt to our ways? This paper will explore some of these issues. The methodology for developing the change strategy draws on Quinn’s (1980) participative approach to change. One aspect of the methodology is to ‘legitimising viewpoints’ and better understand staff and students’ concerns, ensuring that their ‘voices’ contribute to the final strategy document. Focus groups, a student questionnaire and a staff survey were used to elicit understanding. Although data collection sought to test perceptions relating to the broader issue of developing a global perspective, issues relating to diversity are revealed. The Business School has developed the global citizen agenda over five years, including the introduction of new units on cross-cultural awareness and competence however, the research demonstrates that we still need to do more, particularly with regard to managing diversity. International students comment that they feel isolated; we have three distinct ‘tribes’ (UK, EU and Overseas students) and international students in particular, feel that staff could be more proactive in addressing issues. UK students comment, that although they perceive BU as ‘international/global’, they rarely collaborate with international students. The staff survey reveals that some staff, do not perceive the benefits of an international curriculum and experience, or appreciate the importance of the contribution that diversity might make, to students’ learning. The paper concludes by suggesting that: managing diversity requires greater pro-activity; opportunities for extra-curricular socialisation are important, as are the ‘labels’ used to describe activities; assessment strategies could secure greater collaboration between cultures and contribute to cross-cultural learning. It is suggested that undergraduate programmes are, in the main, catering to the needs of UK students and that we are missing the opportunity to encourage learning from other cultures. However, getting the ‘typical’ undergraduate student to engage with diversity and global issues, presents a challenge.

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