Research project to better support Indian subcontinent students in Australia wins international award

The project-delivered strategies for the educational experience which is culturally responsive and enriching. 

A team of Central Queensland University (CQU) academics has won the Award for Best Practice in International Education, in the Australian peak body’s annual Excellence Awards. 

The award-winning research project, “Cross-Cultural Engagement with Students from the Subcontinent”, was named at the International Education Association of Australia awards event on Wednesday 19 October 2022. 

Led by Melbourne-based Accounting academic Dr Monika Kansal, the innovative project highlighted gaps in academics’ cross-cultural understanding of the growing cohort of international students from the Indian subcontinent (including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and India).

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Importantly, the project also delivered an electronic resource kit, a professional development workshop, and good practice strategies to improve educator engagement with students from subcontinent backgrounds. 

The multi-disciplinary project team also included CQUniversity academics Associate Professor Ritesh Chugh, Dr Stephanie Macht, Associate Professor Anthony Weber, and Dr Robert Grose, and Professor Mahsood Shah from Swinburne University. 

Image: Dr Monika Kansal, Dr Ritesh Chugh, Dr Stephanie Macht, Dr Anthony Weber, Professor Mahsood Shah, and Dr Anthony Weber (Supplied)

Dr Kansal explained the project had ongoing impacts for improving academic experiences for international students, at CQ University and across the sector. 

“Our research identified that challenges to the academic success of subcontinent students included a lack of engagement with staff, inadequate critical thinking, poor communication skills, academic integrity issues and unrealistic expectations,” she explained. 

“Armed with a better understanding of the subcontinent student cohort, we encouraged teaching and professional staff to find ways to develop a more inclusive educational environment that builds students up for success.”

Through assessing and improving the effectiveness of these methods, the team has embedded improved practices at CQ University. 

“The PD program aims to raise awareness and educate academic and professional staff about strategies for connecting and collaborating with subcontinent students,” Dr Kansal said. 

“At CQUniversity, our workshop is run in conjunction with the Schools in both face-to-face and online mode, and it’s also readily available to external stakeholders.”

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Image: CQUniversity Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Nick Klomp (CQU)

CQ University Vice-Chancellor and President Professor Nick Klomp paid tribute to the CQ University team, and said the honour reflected hard work across the institution to ensure international student success. 

“It’s thrilling to see this project get the recognition it deserves because it is truly making a difference to how our academics and professionals are supporting students from the subcontinent,” Professor Klomp said.

“CQ University is committed to research with real-world and life-changing impact, and this project, and the passionate academic team behind it, is also helping ensure continual improvement in our inclusive, empowering and life-changing education.”

Dr Ritesh Chugh (Image source: Supplied)

Associate Professor Chugh highlighted that approximately 150,000 international students from the subcontinent study in Australia. Hence, the educational experience must be culturally responsive and enriching. 

He said the project team also “formulated the EQUIP acronym to outline simple strategies to enhance cross-cultural understanding and, more importantly, support staff in adapting their interactions with students from diverse cultural backgrounds.” 

The groundbreaking work has also been featured in two peer-reviewed journals and a conference presentation.

Held as part of the Australian International Education Conference on the Gold Coast, the Excellence Awards featured six categories recognising outstanding achievements by Australian educators and institutions. 

Dr Kansal and her team said they were honoured to have their work recognised, and excited about leading the sector in better student engagement practices. 

“We believe this is the first study that’s explored academic and professional staff perceptions on the cross-cultural issues faced by students from subcontinent countries, and the first professional development program specific to that need,” Dr Kansal said. 

CQ University has been delivering the training since 2019, and saw improvements in international education practices noted in its 2020 Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT) data. 

For more about the EQUIP acronym and the project, see: https://acquire.cqu.edu.au/articles/report/Cross_cultural_engagement_with_students_from_the_subcontinent_CQU_2020/19492208/1