So here we are on the last day of the conference and I must say I have thoroughly enjoyed both the conference and being the guest blogger!
This Conference has made me think. Most of us have precious little time to actually sit and listen, to ponder new things, and to take note of new ideas which we can transfer to our own places of work – so events like this give us a valuable space to think outside the everyday.
The main highlight of this morning for me was listening to the superb academic debate that took place around the subject of the ‘student mobility revolution’. This was a panel discussion between the University of Western Australia, the University of Adelaide and Monash University.
One of the main themes that interested me was the disparity that exists across the social-economic status of those students who are engaged in study abroad. The tendency being that those in the higher social-economic bracket were more likely to study abroad and that those in the lower brackets were less likely to develop their own intercultural capital.
The term ‘intercultural capital’ was one that I hadn’t come across before. In this context this meant essentially all the factors that individuals use to get a job, to add value to themselves and to get through life and survive – people’s personal reservoir of cultural knowledge and know how. Professor Glen Stafford talked about universities being the gatekeepers of intercultural capital and providers of transformative experiences, but that inequality exists as students with lower social economic status don’t have the intercultural capital of those with higher economic status. For example, students in the higher bracket will often come to study abroad already with family support, financial resources etc so they may already have their reservoir half filled.
Professor Stafford gave some excellent examples about how they were addressing this problem, which included removing grade restrictions on study abroad programmes, changing language so that it doesn’t appear selective (for example ‘student ambassador’ may make some potential students feel as though they were not prestigious enough to aspire to this) and embedding study abroad into degrees/majors, among other initiatives. Essentially, trying to normalize and open up the study abroad experience.
This was a complex but highly engaging topic which I would recommend anyone to look in to further. I was lucky enough myself to work abroad at a very young age and it made a real difference to my life. It would be greatly beneficial for all it study abroad opportunities could be made even more accessible.