As we all know, Aston University is a very international and multicultural place to work and to study in, with over 2000 international students and 30% of staff from outside the UK. Professor Helen Higson and colleagues have been hard at work over the past few months developing an intercultural competence strategy that celebrates and builds on the diversity we experience in our everyday lives here at Aston. Professor Higson talks Aspects through the proposed strategy and what benefits it will bring to us all.
The aim of the strategy is for Aston University to be a centre of excellence in intercultural learning and to ensure that our staff and students are prepared to operate in a global working environment. The strategy will firmly embed intercultural awareness in staff and students and there will be a role for everyone to play in that. Here’s how we intend to do it:
Ensure that the management structure is effective and consultative to bring about intercultural awareness and competence
Develop cultural competence amongst all staff and students to enhance learning and teaching, research, business operations and partnerships
Promote cross cultural exchanges throughout the University
Embed intercultural awareness formally through the curriculum and informally through social activities and engagement
Incorporate the development and support of languages as an integral source of intercultural competence
Create an increased awareness of the support services available for all staff and students.
The strategy has been approved in principle by the Executive Leadership Team, who are keen for there to be an emphasis on more than just intercultural ‘awareness’; the goal for Aston University’s staff and students is to possess intercultural ‘competence’. We will not only be making people aware, but we will be equipping staff and students with the necessary skills to deal with situations and challenges from an intercultural perspective.
The University was already doing a lot of work in this area (One World Week, intercultural sessions, international student placements, InterLanD research are just a few examples) but we want to do much more and become a sector leader in this field. This is even more of a priority due to Aston’s unique position in the heart of the UK’s highly multicultural second city.
For staff and students, competence will be promoted from the moment you first join the University to the time you leave. It is planned that all new staff will have an induction visit from an ‘Intercultural Awareness Champion’ to explain the importance of diversity, how to get involved and where to find further information. We want to offer free language courses for all staff (and students), tying in with the HEFCE Modern languages strategy and also Routes and Links into Languages. We hope to set up a new Mentoring programme alongside this provision so that if you are learning French you will be assigned a French ‘buddy’ to support you for example.
There will be School based inductions for students and trails using MAP. We’re really trying to embed intercultural competence in different ways in order to respond to different needs. One way is by encouraging more staff and students to take up ERASMUS exchange opportunities. Did you realise that you could access funding to visit someone in your equivalent role in a European University to find out what they’re up to and stimulate ideas and discussion?
I am particularly excited by the recent formation of the Aston Triangle Cinema Club, which will help to embed intercultural competence in an informal way by screening international and ‘art house’ films on a regular basis. Food and music festivals are planned to take place throughout the year and there will be a wider availability of international newspapers across the campus which will be widely accessible to staff and students – the opening of CaféTierra will help this. It’s also a fantastic space, encouraging staff and students to try international food and to interact with people from all over the world.
The University’s commitment to international competence has been demonstrated in its choice of activity to support this year – 2010/11 will be Aston’s Year of Diversity. Keep an eye on Aspects that will give details of events taking place throughout the year. We certainly have much to celebrate!
If you would like to be involved in organising any of these events please let Helen Higson know: email@example.com.