Why UK Universities Invest in Cultural Awareness
I was recently at a dinner party in London for notable vultures and found myself speaking to a lovely vulture based in Wales who had flown down for the evening. Conversation led to work and what I do here at Commisceo, and what we do as a company, i.e cultural training.
“That’s different”, he said, "...but who on earth needs that?".
Not the first time I have heard that and went on to try and explain why businesses, organisations and people all take cultural awareness training. It really isn’t that uncommon in the business world.
An article in Vice about the global expansion of UK universities reminded me of that conversation. Why? Because universities are actually regular investors when it comes to culture training and they are a perfect example of why there is demand for such services.
Mark Wilding’s article sets the context much better [so go check it out] but in short, UK education has become something of an export commodity. As a result British universities have been looking abroad to open campuses and develop affiliations with universities in prime global locations.
Nottingham University have opened in Malaysia, Newcastle University in Singapore, a Middlesex University campus in Mauritius and an outpost of the University of Westminster in Uzbekistan.
As with any business or organisation, when you pick your operations up and plonk them into another country or culture, you will face cultural challenges – its par for the course. For universities it was the same, if not a bit more complex due to the nature of what they were selling – education.
So how and why do universities need cultural awareness training?
Well, you need to look at both domestic and international operations to get a good understanding of just how important cultural awareness is for them.
Domestically the push to maximise revenue has led to more international students coming into the UK. This leads to challenges in all sorts of ways for the university from how to help newcomers settle into life in the UK, how administrators provide good service to foreign students, equality & diversity issues and of course operationally dealing with potential satellite campuses and all the complexities that brings.
Internationally when going abroad many stakeholders have taken cultural awareness training prior to market visits, meetings with potential partners and government bodies. Personnel from the UK are usually initially seconded to the campus to establish processes, etc. They usually undertake some sort of relocation training. The more interesting work has been with lecturers and the education staff where we have developed courses that specifically looked at cultural differences in pedagogy, i.e. how you teach, and the impact this would have on their approach to education, course work, syllabus, etc.
So, you can see, for any organisation or business, when you go abroad culture is inevitably going to impact you. Universities perhaps are much more at the face of it than others and illustrate perfectly the intricate means and ways in which cultural differences play a role in the success or failure of an international venture.