Australian academics teaching in Singapore: striving for cultural empathy

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Wallace, M & Dunn, L 2004 'Australian academics teaching in Singapore: striving for cultural empathy', Innovations in Education and Teaching International, vol. 41, no. 3, pp. 291-304.

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Within a framework of shrinking public funding for universities, competition for students and pressures for the internationalization of education, Australian universities have formed partnerships with Asian organizations to offer Australian degrees to fee-paying students in their home countries. Teaching Asian students in Asia is complex, expensive and challenging for the university, its local partners, students and academics. However, Singapore and Australia have recently signed a free trade agreement and others may follow, thereby increasing the amount of teaching Australian universities undertake in Asia. Issues of education and cultural empathy have become more important than ever in this new environment. This paper discusses one international degree program and the way it is experienced by its Singaporean students and Australian academics as each group strives to understand the academic and cultural needs of the other. Singaporean students in the study reported a range of different learning styles and most preferred teaching and learning approaches that encourage deep learning. The Australian academics considered that these characteristics were similar to those of Australian students, but it appears that the way Australian academics facilitate student-centredness is confronting to Singaporeans used to different teaching, learning and assessment methods. Some Singaporean students accorded local tutors less 'expert' status than the Australian lecturers, thus they placed low value on the tutorial assistance provided as a key part of mixed-mode delivery of the course. Also, the Australian academics reported that they had difficulty finding culturally appropriate ways to ask for, and receive, critical evaluative feedback from the Singaporean students and tutors. In general, notwithstanding the challenges involved, the Singaporean students appreciated the opportunity to earn an Australian degree without having to leave Singapore, and the Australian academics found the experience of teaching in Singapore to be rewarding.

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