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Celebrating our People: Helen Spencer-Oatey

The University Awards are a great opportunity to show appreciation of the hard work that goes on day to day, here at Warwick! Find out more about our award winners in our series of interviews, highlighting their roles and achievements. Hear from Helen Spencer-Oatey, winner of the Global Contribution Award - Individual in 2017.

Tell us a bit about your role:

I’m Director of the Centre for Applied Linguistics so much of my work is associated with strategy and management. I teach on our MSc Intercultural Communication for Business & the Professions and supervise PhD students researching issues associated with language, culture and communication. One of our key research foci is Working and Communicating across Cultures and I work with a number of staff and research students on projects associated with this, especially in relation to maximising Warwick students’ ‘global education’ experiences and preparing them for working in an increasingly international/multicultural world. "

How would you define your project?

Numerous universities throughout the world have identified ‘internationalisation’ as one of their key priorities and many talk of wanting to develop ‘global graduates’. But what does this mean in practice and how can it be achieved? These are the key questions that my colleagues and I in Applied Linguistics (especially Dr Daniel Dauber and Dr Sophie Reissner-Roubicek) and the Office for Global Engagement (especially Claire O’Leary and Simon Brown) have been addressing.

They require three main steps:

  1. Developing a needs analysis tool that probes the extent to which university students are experiencing a ‘global education’. We have designed the Global Education Profiler (GE-P) for this and in the summer of 2016 it was licenced to i-Graduate, who run many major student surveys. It’s now being run both in UK and overseas.
  2. Developing training courses and resources to address the needs that emerge. We have developed a 3-stage training course, initially for those going on study abroad but later for all students at Warwick. Stage 1 comprises a face-to-face workshop and a follow-up online course; Stage 2 comprises a number of reflective activities; Stage 3 comprises a face-to-face workshop, which has a particular focus on helping students describe their experiences in terms that are meaningful to employers.
  3. Running the training courses for students who need it. The courses are now being run on a regular basis, organised by the Office for Global Engagement and run in collaboration with Applied Linguistics staff. For instance, in May 2017, 94 students took part in a Stage 1 workshop. In addition to the above, we run bespoke intercultural training courses for different departments (e.g. we’ve had a longstanding collaboration with Statistics) and we have a range of open source resources that receive about 30,000 downloads per month. We also run training courses for commercial companies and our Global TIES (Training in Intercultural Effectiveness) programme has been particularly successful.

In summary, our goal is to help people work and interact more effectively across cultural boundaries - whether at university or beyond. "

Going above and beyond your role:

Working effectively with others is a soft skill that is not easily measured. So understandably, university management prefers to use 'easy' measures of internationalisation like numbers of international students and staff. Yet if people don't mix well together and learn from each other, we would question how meaningful internationalisation league tables and associated claims really are. Addressing this challenge is a long slow process that does not happen overnight because it requires a gradual change in people's mindsets and behaviour. We’re having to learn to be patient as we try to demonstrate and explain the importance of addressing the issue. Recently an external PR/media consultant attended some of our training sessions and afterwards told me “Wow, this is absolutely brilliant, Helen. Why isn’t the university offering this to every student? And why aren’t you selling it to other universities?” I was delighted at her exceptionally positive feedback, but had to explain that there are funding and capacity issues that prevent us from doing this. This is a challenge that we’re still working on! "

How does it feel to have won the Global Contribution Award - Individual?

It’s easy to feel that you’re working really hard at projects that get little public recognition, perhaps because they don’t have the glamour of winning a big research grant. So it's a very encouraging, both for me personally as well as for my colleagues, to know that someone was willing to put in the time to nominate me. "

Why do you think people should nominate next time (for the 2018 University Awards):

It's encouraging to others and we should all try to help and support each other in this way."

We hope you enjoyed the University Awards Evening on 12 May. Did you have any highlights?

Four staff from Applied Linguistics were nominated for an award and it was great fun having a large departmental turnout for the event. "

The University Awards are a great chance for the University to improve and learn from staff initiatives over the year. If you could change one thing at the University, what would it be?

I hope that our work will pave the way to understanding internationalisation in a more holistic way, moving beyond numbers to substance. I also hope that as the University invests in REF and TEF, they won’t overlook the crucial role that internationalisation will play for the success of both, and will ensure that we have sufficient senior level expertise and resource to lead the way in global engagement both at home and in our international partnerships."

What would you like to say to the person(s) who nominated you?

Thank you so much - it's been very encouraging to me."

Extract from Helen's nomination: Helen’s passion for the practical application of her research for the benefit of international students and for the achievement of inclusive and well integrated student communities are the reasons that set her apart from other academics working in this field and make her worthy of this special award. At a time when the concept and ideals of internationalisation in Higher Education and in our society at large is being questioned, I am very proud to work with someone who has dedicated her life to intricately exploring and understanding the challenges and the rewards of intercultural communication.

Helen Spencer-Oatey

Spend the day with Helen as part of our work shadowing programme.