The challenges of employing international faculty

“International faculty’s lack of knowledge about local cultural contexts can be an insurmountable challenge”

Employing international faculty can have massive benefits for universities but it can also present a number of challenges, writes Tsediso Michael Makoelle, vice dean of research at Nazarbayev University’s Graduate School of Education.

Moving to any new country involves a new cultural environment which more often than not can cause international faculty to experience culture shock. When faculty experience this culture shock, many can struggle to adapt and adjust to this new cultural environment, including grappling with aspects such as language. In some cases, this could adversely affect their psychological and emotional well-being, leading to underperformance at work.

Often, international faculty’s lack of knowledge about local cultural contexts can be an insurmountable challenge, as they need to develop skills to adapt their past experiences to living in the new local culture.

Educational institutions with high international faculty will also have high numbers of international students, exposing faculty to an even greater diversity of cultures which, when not fully understood, can present itself as a barrier to delivering and accessing knowledge.

However, there is a wealth of incredibly important benefits for universities employing international faculty.

International faculty provide a richness in terms of bringing in diverse international knowledge and experience which will ultimately impact positively on student academic and learning experiences, affording students the opportunity to engage with diverse scholars from around the world. Having international faculty in a team also enhances research, bringing in a diversity of thought and process, with international faculty introducing new ways of thinking and doing things which the local faculty may not have considered.

International faculty also allow students to have access to an international education, delivered by world-class professors from all over the world, without having to leave their home countries. This exposes local students to international knowledge and experience without the need to travel abroad, which might be much more costly for them.

Impact of COVID-19 on international education

COVID-19 has presented a conundrum to international education. In the beginning, educational institutions found themselves wanting as they did not have measures in place to deal with aspects of both international faculty and student wellbeing in the face of limited health resources of the hosting countries.

They also had to deal with the sudden change in the mode of teaching and learning to distance and online delivery leading to institutions having to abruptly implement their best managerial and technological resources.

This presented challenges for institutions around monitoring and evaluation of the quality of teaching during the pandemic. As most international contracts are performance-based, educational institutions have to develop mechanisms to ensure that, while the mode of teaching and learning has migrated online, student performance would not be adversely affected.

Research activity has also faced challenges. Applied research requires laboratory work, which was banned all over the world. Universities have had to rapidly develop strict guidelines for additional safety measures and assure students and faculty are safe.

Meanwhile, some students were forced to leave their dormitories, which was especially challenging for international students. To combat this, Nazarbayev University, for instance, let international students stay at the dormitories if they were unable to cross state borders.

They have also considered providing work for international students that have already graduated and couldn’t return home after graduation, so that they can still cover living expenses. This level of coordination and change requires much effort, patience, and qualification from every member of an institution’s community.

The fact that there was a shortage of faculty has forced institutions to develop measures to provide educational services with limited human and physical resources.

The recruitment of new international faculty members became harder and some already offered contracts have not been able to start their employment due to international embargoes on travelling to different countries. For example, in Kazakhstan, most foreign nationals are prohibited from travelling into the country.

To overcome these challenges, educational institutions need to develop a comprehensive plan to deal with the effects of the pandemic in administrative, research, governance, and academic areas. It is important to put in place emergency measures to deal with the challenges faced by international faculty and students in the event of a crisis.

Institutions have to do an assessment of the impact of the pandemic on all its components and draw on lessons learnt in order to inform plans for the future to protect international faculty and students.

About the Author: Tsediso Michael Makoelle is vice dean of research at Nazarbayev University’s Graduate School of Education in Kazakhstan’s capital, Nur-Sultan city. He is particularly passionate about inclusive education with research interests in conceptualisation and operationalisation of inclusive pedagogy.