Numerous universities across the world are promoting internationalisation and trying to foster ‘global graduates’. However, it can be confusing to know what this really means and how it can be achieved.
What is a ‘Global Graduate’?
There are two broad perspectives on fostering global graduates: (a) a focus on the skills and qualities that graduates need to work in a globalising world; i.e. becoming an effective global employee; (b) a focus on the values and attitudes needed for ethical behaviour; i.e. becoming a socially responsible global citizen.
Why do companies want ‘global graduates’?
An influential report by NCUB, AGR and CFE Research and Consulting explains why employers need ‘global graduates’:
“Multinational employers, and increasingly employers of all kinds, require their workforce to work readily and confidently across worldwide operations, using a global outlook to consider new opportunities and challenges.” (p.5)
What skills and/or qualities are they looking for?
This same report, drawing on responses from twelve leading employers who collectively represent over 3,500 graduate recruits, lists the following top ten skills and qualities:
- An ability to work collaboratively with teams of people from a range of backgrounds and countries
- Excellent communication skills: both speaking and listening
- A high degree of drive and resilience
- An ability to embrace multiple perspectives and challenge thinking
- A capacity to develop new skills and behaviours according to role requirements
- A high degree of self-awareness
- An ability to negotiate and influence clients across the globe from different cultures
- An ability to form professional, global networks
- An openness to and respect for a range of perspectives from around the world
- Multi-cultural learning agility (e.g. able to learn in any culture or environment)
How can those skills and qualities be fostered?
Many universities have taking a structural approach and have set targets for increasing the number of international students and staff, plus the number of students participating in study abroad opportunities. However, while having a diverse student/staff population is an important foundation for internationalising the student experience, diversity alone is insufficient.
The need for integration
Integration is a vital element for the fostering of ‘global graduates’, as another report by the British Council explains:
“… simply having a diverse student body does not mean the education or even the campus is global in nature. What comes as an essential part of a global education is the inclusion of international students in communities and classes.”
The benefits of integration
Research indicates that integration across diverse boundaries is beneficial for a number of reasons, including:
- student well-being
- student retention
- student achievement/learning gain
- development of global attributes
- fostering of global citizenship perspectives
To achieve integration, several steps need to be taken.
Step 1. Engagement with difference
The famous anthropologist, E.T. Hall, said “Most cross-cultural exploration begins with the annoyance of being lost.” Yet many studies indicate that students tend to stick within their comfort zones and make friends with people who are similar to themselves. Mixing with people from different backgrounds is a vital stimulus for learning new things and this needs to be encouraged.
Step 2. Guided reflection on difference
While experiences of difference are vitally important, they are insufficient for truly internationalising the student experience and fostering ‘global graduates’. Students need to reflect mindfully on their experiences in order to avoid negative stereotyping and in order to gain new insights and intercultural awareness. Help with this through facilitated workshops or tasks is also particularly important.
Step 3. Learning to articulate strengths
The third crucial step, for employability reasons, is for students to learn how to verbalise their new insights and skills. Cheryl Matherly explains it as follows:
“It is simply not enough to seek an international experience—the experience itself has little value for an employer. The savvy job seeker must be able to speak about this experience in terms of the transferable skills that he or she developed while abroad and how they can be applied to the workplace. For many students, this can be an enormous challenge.” (p.9)
Once again the ability to articulate ‘global graduate’ strengths needs careful facilitation.
Assessing students’ global education experience
Steps 1-3 all need active encouragement and facilitation. It is important, therefore, for universities to plan this strategically, checking how far students are experiencing social and academic integration, and the extent to which they are developing the key skills and qualities of ‘global graduates’ that employers are looking for. This is a crucial but challenging complementary step.