Multicultural competence in social and health care education

Multicultural competence in social and health care education

A practical placement – or workplace learning – is an essential part of social and health care higher education. Aside from placing domestic students, there is an increasing number of English-taught degree programmes in European higher education institutions (HEIs) that attract applicants from all over the world. In addition to degree students, a vast number of Erasmus students do their exchange mobility period as practice in social and health care organisations. But how prepared are the staff that supervise their placements?

Teacher- and clinical supervisor competence in guiding culturally diverse students varies widely in European countries, with most supervisors lacking the competencies and skills necessary to guide international students. All the while, supervisor guidance plays a major role in the success of student learning experience. One of the responses to the competence needs among educators in the field is the EU-funded project Soulbus – Building Social Capital by Improving Multicultural Competence in Higher Education and Labour Market (2013−2015) implemented in cooperation with five EU countries: Finland, the Netherlands, Estonia, Slovenia and Croatia. Thirteen partners participated in the project, six of them being HEIs and the other six social and health care organisations such as teaching hospitals and NGOs, as well as the School of Social Work at San José State University, USA. The project’s goals are threefold:

1) To improve teacher and mentor multicultural competence, to increase the volume of placements available to foreign students as well as the quality of placement by offering the target group the opportunity to attend the Soulbus E-Coach programme, which was designed and piloted in the project.

2) To improve the attractiveness and accessibility of the practical placements for the international exchange and degree students, as a part of the higher education institutions’ curricular activities.

3) To support systematic, long-term collaboration between higher education institutions and social and health care organisations.

In developing the E-Coach programme, it was essential to find existing good practices in supervising international social and health care students in placement settings. It was equally important to identify the main needs and challenges for supervision practices and the development of multicultural competencies.

Challenges and best practices

Case studies were carried out in all participating countries. They showed that international student supervision brings many challenges for teacher- and clinical supervisors. Challenges can be found in communication in English and foreign languages as well as in non-verbal communication skills. Furthermore, it became clear that there should be more discussion and interaction regarding multicultural supervision issues between the HEIs and their social and health care partners both at the organisational and individual levels.

Social and health care organisations offering placements for multicultural students also need more support from HEIs with such students. The research showed that staff often felt as though they were being given insufficient information about the students’ backgrounds, learning objectives, and evaluation processes. It became evident that it was necessary to jointly develop a model for multicultural student supervision. HEIs need to acknowledge that multicultural student supervision is more time-consuming for the placements and therefore consider allocating more resources for the HEI staff supervising international students. Common discussion forums could lead to better cooperation, also encouraging more staff members to supervise such students.

While there are significant challenges in multicultural student supervision, many good practices already exist. HEIs have, in recent years, developed organisational structures and processes to better support national and internationalisation strategies. HEI staff have the possibility to go on exchange and receive additional training, student unions have developed multicultural peer tutor systems, and family-friend programmes have been created, to name a few. However, HEIs have not extended such structures for the use of their working life partners. This is a challenge that must be jointly overcome in order to qualitatively work with international students.

A concrete tool

The end product of the Soulbus project is an open source and free-of-charge E-Coach programme for clinical and HEI supervisors. The coaching programme tackles multiculturalism, cultural awareness, cultural empathy, open-mindedness, cultural knowledge and skills, communication and self-efficacy, social initiative and emotional stability. It is a concrete tool and a step towards multiculturally competent cooperation between HEIs and their working life partners.

On Wednesday 16 September, during the HI Feature session at the EAIE Conference in Glasgow, from 15:30−17:00, the Soulbus E-coach programme will be officially presented. Join us to learn more!

Johanna is the International Relations Coordinator at Lahti University of Applied Sciences, Faculty of Social and Health Care, Finland and Vice-Chair of the EAIE Expert Community Health Internationalisation (HI).