Keynote 2

  • Cultural difference in western universities: Intercultural and internationalised responses to a changing world

    Christine Asmar, University of Sydney


    The internationalisation of higher education is an integral part of globalisation. Rising intakes of international students have become a feature of most western universities, bringing new educational opportunities as well as certain challenges to established ways of doing and seeing things. Those challenges can be heightened at times of international crises, but responses to difference are not confined to international students, for the students enrolling from local communities increasingly reflect an ever more diverse reality. There is also the issue of cultural difference among our international and local staff, leading to the question of whether we do enough to integrate both students and staff into our academic community while simultaneously valuing the different perspectives and experiences they bring to the academy. Some research in which I have been involved has suggested that western universities may be over-focused on their international student intake whilst overlooking the learning needs of local students from equally diverse backgrounds. Other research which I am currently undertaking has highlighted ways in which the experiences of minority academic staff differ from those of their ‘mainstream’ colleagues, with implications for how institutions respond to cultural diversity among their staff. Rejecting a ‘deficit’ or remedial’ approach, I will argue for the benefits of a more inclusive approach to difference, one which would allow for the incorporation of Indigenous, local, diasporic and international perspectives into campus cultures and curricula. Political, cultural and religious differences are permanent features of our campuses, but are western institutions ready for the opportunities this presents? Since one of our tasks in the new century has to be the education of all our students as global citizens, we need an approach to teaching and learning – and to teachers and learners – which is intercultural, internationalised and connected to a new and changing world.