Helping Indian subcontinent students adjust to Australian universities, some tips

A new study calls for cross-cultural training for Australian university staff to better engage with students from the Indian subcontinent.

Over the past decade, the number of students from the Indian subcontinent has surged exponentially in the Australian higher education system. Given the importance of higher education for the Australian economy, these Indian subcontinent international students also represent a significant resource for both Australian universities and Australia.  

However, given the rise in numbers of Indian subcontinent students at Australian universities, is the local staff capable of addressing their distinctive cross-cultural needs?

To find an answer to this complex and under-researched topic, a team of interdisciplinary researchers from Central Queensland University (CQU) conducted semi-structured focus group interviews with the academic and professional staff to gain insights into their perceptions and experiences with Indian subcontinent students.

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Dr Ritesh Chugh, one of the authors of this research paper, told The Australia Today that there’s a lot that needs to be done by both faculty and management at Australian universities. He says that this timely study has both practical and policy implications for all Australian universities. He adds:

“Given the large and growing numbers of subcontinent students enrolled in Australian higher education, this study is timely.”

The new research demonstrates that academic and professional staff strongly recognise the need to engage with Indian subcontinent students’ understandings of teaching and learning, including academic cheating or plagiarism. The researchers note:

“The ‘colonial hangover’ model of higher education, whereby the onus on acculturation is solely on the student is unsuitable as all participating staff considered themselves to have a significant role in alleviating subcontinent students’ cross-cultural challenges.”

Dr Monika Kansal, who is the lead author of this research paper, points to the following key areas based on multiple focus group interviews:

  • institutional actions to alleviate cross-cultural challenges
  • peer to peer mentoring
  • skills and mental health support services for Indian subcontinent students, and
  • staff training in cross-cultural awareness.

She is hopeful that a focus on the above areas by both the academic staff and university management could help alleviate the social and academic challenges faced by Indian subcontinent students. 

The research team says that recruiting Indian subcontinent students seeking immigration opportunities via university enrolment was a significant and interesting finding of the focus groups. They point out that most Indian subcontinent international students in Australia study management, commerce, engineering, information technology, or other technology-related subjects. The researchers note:

“Focus group participants suggested that a greater effort needs to be made by universities to ensure overseas agents and recruiters are providing the right information to potential students, including the temporary nature of their legal status in Australia and the requirement to observe the conditions of their student visas.”

Dr Chugh reiterates that Australian universities must ensure that overseas education agents provide correct information to prospective Indian subcontinent students both pre and post-arrival. 

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The findings have been published in a research paper entitled “Alleviating cross-cultural challenges of Indian subcontinent students: University staff perspectives” authored by Monika Kansal, Ritesh Chugh, Anthony Weber, Stephanie Macht, Robert Grose, and Mahsood Shah.