The impact of international students on domestic students and host institutions

Publication Details

This literature review considers the educational, social and cultural impacts of international students on domestic students, educational institutions and host communities. It was prepared for the Export Education Policy Project of the New Zealand Ministry of Education by Colleen Ward Victoria University of Wellington 2001.

Author(s): Colleen Ward, University of Victoria.

Date Published: 2001

Executive Summary

Purpose, process and organisation

The review was commissioned by the Ministry of Education to inform policy development and effective planning in the area of international education, particularly with respect to full fee-paying students. The review of international and local materials was directed to consider social, cultural and educational impacts of international students on domestic students and on secondary and tertiary educational institutions. Five key areas were identified for review:

  1. What is the nature of the interaction and relationship between international and domestic students?
  2. What is the nature of the interaction and relationships between international students and host communities?
  3. What is the comparative usage of institutional support facilities by international and domestic students?
  4. What is the impact of international students on teaching and learning?
  5. What are the conditions under which positive benefits of internationalisation are likely to be realised?

The review commenced with the search of electronic data bases in education, sociology and psychology. This was supplemented by posting enquiries on the electronic communication networks of various professional organisations (such as the International Association for Cross-cultural Psychology and the International Academy of Intercultural Research), the search of various organisation web-sites (e.g., CRIE, DETYA), consultation with Ministry of Education staff, and personal contact with regional researchers. The report on

Fostering Social Cohesion in Universities

by Smart, Volet and Ang (2000) was particularly useful in preparing this review, and the author would like to thank Simone Volet (Murdoch University) for her suggestions of relevant resources and Neil Quintrell (formerly of Flinders University) for comments on peer-pairing programmes. The summary and the interpretation of research findings, however, should only be attributed to the author.

As the review was undertaken and completed in a relatively short period of 11 weeks, it is likely that additional materials will be uncovered and/or obtained after the document's submission. Where appropriate, these will be forwarded to the contracting authority.

The review materials are organised into two major sections:

  • an overview of educational, social and cultural impacts and
  • a description and analysis of strategies that have been used to promote internationalisation and increase intercultural understanding.

The first section is divided into four parts:

  • Interactions between international and domestic students
  • Impact in the classroom
  • Impact on the institution and
  • Impact in the community.

The second section describes and evaluates:

  • peer-pairing programmes
  • cooperative learning in the classroom, and
  • programmes for student halls of residence.

The review concludes with a summary and recommendations for researchers, educators and administrators.

Definition of terms

The following terms, which are used throughout the review, may require further elaboration.

Co-nationals:individuals of the same nationality
Cross-cultural:involving more than one culture
Cross-national:involving more than one nation or nationality
Cultural distance:the amount of perceived similarity/dissimilarity between two cultures
Host nationals:individuals who are nationals of a country that accepts (and hosts) international students
Intercultural:between different cultures
Sojourner:a person who temporarily relocates to another country, generally for a specific time and purpose (e.g., education, work) with the intention of returning to his/her home country.

Key Findings

Interactions between international and domestic students

Although there is an extensive literature on interactions between international and domestic students, research has been undertaken almost exclusively from the perspective of the international students. These studies have considered the quality and quantity of contact, friendship patterns, social support networks, and the functional roles of intercultural interactions. The results of the research converge to indicate that the amount of cross-national interaction is generally low, that international students expect and desire greater contact, and that interaction with domestic peers is generally associated with psychological, social and academic benefits for the international student.

Although studies converge in the finding that the incidence of intercultural interactions is low, greater contact is expected and desired by international students. However, despite the findings that domestic students hold relatively favourable perceptions of international students, most investigations have concluded that domestic students are largely uninterested in initiating contact with their international peers. Significant intercultural interaction is unlikely to occur spontaneously to any large extent, and it is almost certain that interventionist strategies would need to be introduced to promote more and better intercultural activities.

Impact in the classroom

The potential of international students to change both the content and the process of education has received considerable attention in the literature where it has been argued that they bring an international perspective to classroom discussions and that they challenge and encourage teachers to consider new methods of instruction that are more consistent with their previous learning experiences. Although there is an extensive literature on cross-cultural differences in educational expectations and practices and considerable research on cross-cultural differences in student behaviours, there has been little to no direct investigation of how these impact on the international classroom. Evidence suggests that for the most part educators (particularly those at the tertiary level) make few, if any, changes in either the process or content of educational activities. While there is considerable potential for bringing an international perspective to the classroom, and there have been examples of how this might be achieved, there has been little research on either the extent or the outcomes of such activities. Clearly this is an area that deserves further attention.

Impact on institutions

The positive and negative consequences of increased international students have been discussed in the literature although a limited amount of research has actually been undertaken in the area. Benefits have been largely framed in terms of internationalising educational environments while costs have been linked to heavy demands put on institutional support services. In the first instance discussions are often rhetorical and infrequently based on empirical evidence; however, there is some suggestion that increasing cultural awareness may result from the presence of international students. In the latter instance, research is available, though patchy, and largely limited to tertiary institutions. Studies generally find that international students experience more problems than domestic students and in some circumstances that they make greater use of health services. The overall usage of support services is still relatively low, however, and no evidence has been located that indicates support services are strained by international students, at least those in tertiary institutions.

Impact in the community

No studies have been identified that explicitly examine the impact of international students on the larger community; however, there is research that can provide some insight into the relationship between international students and members of the host culture. These include studies of perceived discrimination and research on home stays. There are also some descriptive writings about community outreach programmes although these are rarely evaluated.

The scant data that are available are inconclusive as to whether international students experience greater difficulty outside the more protective environments of their learning institutions. Very little is known about the integration of international students into the larger community although some data suggest that home stays are a source of stress for international students. Community outreach programmes have been developed and reported on in an ad hoc fashion, but systematic evaluations of these initiatives have not generally been undertaken.


Research has shown that the presence of international students, even in large numbers, is insufficient in itself to promote intercultural interactions, to develop intercultural friendships and to result in international understanding. Rather, situations must be structured to foster these processes. Studies have also revealed that students, both local and international, perceive it is the responsibility of educational institutions to increase and enhance intercultural interactions. Three strategies that have been used, evaluated and proven to foster positive intercultural perceptions and relations are peer-pairing, cooperative learning and residential programmes.

Peer-pairing involves collaboration between international and domestic students who meet with regularity outside of the classroom environment. Although the original purpose of peer-pairing programmes was to assist the international student in adapting to a new environment, research has shown that these schemes have also increased intercultural interactions and enhanced cultural awareness in domestic students.

Intercultural cooperative learning strategies have also received attention in educational studies although research suggests that most students, both international and domestic, prefer to work in "their own" groups. Despite this reluctance, studies have shown that intercultural group work reduces stereotypes and increases the willingness to work with members of other groups. Classic literature on cooperative learning in ethnically diverse classrooms, though generally conducted with nationals of a single country, demonstrate good potential for these techniques to be used both to improve academic performance and to foster intercultural friendships in international settings.

Less research is available on residential programmes (i.e., activities within student hostels) for international and domestic students although evidence available has shown promising results. Positive outcomes include increased intercultural knowledge, more intercultural interactions and a greater number of intercultural friendships. Those engaged in evaluations of such programmes have noted that their success depends upon the integration of intercultural activities across all areas of student life, skilled and committed support persons to implement the programmes and a high level of involvement from participating students.

Recommendations and Conclusions

Research that addresses the five key questions on the impact of international students has been somewhat limited, and studies that are available are almost exclusively conducted with the international rather than domestic students and confined to research in tertiary institutions. In response to these limitations, the following research priorities are recommended:

  • Research with domestic students, particularly at the secondary level.
  • Research with teachers
  • Research with home stay families
  • Research within the community.
  • Experimental lab or classroom based studies
  • Evaluation studies of intervention strategies
  • Longitudinal studies.

Guidelines for the design and evaluation of intervention programmes are also offered, and emphasis is placed on the importance of disseminating research. Finally, it is noted that New Zealand has an excellent opportunity to emerge as a leader in evidence-based policy and programme development of international initiatives, provided that commitment is made to fostering research in this area.



Over the last two decades New Zealand has moved from an "aid to trade" orientation to international education, and economic analyses clearly indicate that the benefits outweigh the costs of internationalising. There are now 7000 international students in New Zealand schools and approximately 11,000 in the tertiary sector. The value of international education as a service export was estimated at $348 million in 1995 (Back, Davis & Olsen, 1998), and projections for 2000 were $500 million in foreign exchange, more than that attracted by the software, wine and venison industries (Oomen, 1995). A study by Infometrics Consulting Ltd. published in 2000 indicated that this target had been exceeded, and current estimates are that the industry could contribute $1 billion to the country within 4-5 years. With increasing numbers of international students, however, it becomes clear that economic issues are not the only relevant considerations. Educational, social, and cultural impacts are also important.

The Ministry of Education commissioned this review to consider aspects of these wider impacts. In particular, five key issues were identified for review.

  1. What is the nature of the interaction and relationship between international and domestic students?
  2. What is the nature of the interaction and relationships between international students and host communities?
  3. What is the comparative usage of institutional support facilities by international and domestic students?
  4. What is the impact of international students on teaching and learning?
  5. What are the conditions under which positive benefits of internationalisation are likely to be realised?

In short, how does the increase of international students in New Zealand schools and tertiary institutions affect local students, educational institutions and the community?

The purpose of the review is to inform policy development by the Ministry and effective planning and management at the level of the institution.


The review was prepared by Colleen Ward, Professor of Psychology at Victoria University of Wellington with the assistance of Joanne Brown, a doctoral student in Psychology at VUW. Consultation was undertaken with Neil Scotts, Policy Project Manager, Export Education.

The process included the identification, retrieval and review of international materials initially located through electronic data bases in psychology, sociology and education, posted inquiries to members of professional groups (International Association for Cross-cultural Psychology, International Academy of Intercultural Research), search of relevant organisational web-sites (e.g., CRIE, DETYA), consultation with Ministry of Education staff, and personal contact with regional researchers. Additional relevant materials were identified from these sources.

Certain principles have guided the review process. Although the review is largely concentrated on materials published within the last ten years, earlier "classic" works are also cited. Emphasis is placed on empirical work, rather than descriptive commentaries on how international education may influence individuals, institutions and communities. Distinctions are drawn between secondary and tertiary education studies although it is clear from the review that most material is based on the study of tertiary institutions.

The emergent literature is patchy. On one hand, there is an abundance of studies on social interaction between international and domestic students, though undertaken primarily from the perspective of the international student. On the other hand, there is very little material on the relationship between international students and members of the host community. And while there is extensive discussion on how international students might be used as resources for internationalisation, there are few descriptions of how this has been done and even fewer evaluations of the outcomes of these initiatives.

The review is organised in two major parts. The first considers the social, educational and cultural impacts of international students. It looks at the relationships between international and domestic students, education in the multicultural classroom, institutional implications of international education, and the international student in the wider community. The second part describes and evaluates interventions that maximise the benefits of internationalisation. The conclusion identifies gaps in research, suggests areas for future research development, and highlights issues relevant to educators and administrators.

Part 1: The social, educational and cultural impact of international students

International and domestic students: Intergroup perceptions and relations

This section considers the social impact of international students on domestic students, particularly social contact and friendship formation. It also reviews the related literature on stereotypes.

Social interactions between international and domestic students

Although there is an extensive literature on interactions between international and domestic students, research has been undertaken almost exclusively from the perspective of the international students. These studies have considered the quality and quantity of contact, friendship patterns, social support networks, and the functional roles of intercultural interactions. The results of the research converge to indicate that the amount of cross-national interaction is typically low, that international students expect and desire greater contact, and that interaction with domestic peers is generally associated with psychological, social and academic benefits for the international student.

Cross-cultural studies demonstrate that most international students have primary bonds with co-nationals. One of the earliest and frequently cited classic works in this field was Klineberg and Hull's (1979) research with over 2500 international university students in 11 countries. Whether internationals were resident in Japan, France or Canada, their most regular contact was with co-nationals. The majority of students (57%) indicated that their best friend was either a co-national or another international student. The overall amount of actual contact with host nationals was slight -though students indicated that more would have been welcomed. More recent research mirrors this finding. For example, Trice and Elliott (1993) estimated that Japanese students in the United States spend 88% of study time and 82% of social time with other Japanese.

Similar results were also reported by Bochner, Mcleod and Lin (1977) in their more modest but often cited work on the friendship patterns of international students at the University of Hawaii. Thirty-six students from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and the Philippines reported a preference for same culture friends: 43% of their friends were co-nationals, 29% host nationals and 27% members of other cultural groups. Seventeen per cent had no American friends at all. The same co-national preference emerged in response to the amount of time spent in contact with other students: 46% of time was spent in interaction with co-nationals compared to 33% in contact with locals.

Research conducted in the United Kingdom corroborates the finding of infrequent bonds between international and domestic students. Bochner, Hutnik and Furnham (1985) found that of 32 international students at an Oxford University hall of residence only 17% nominated a British student as their best friend and that 70% had no British friends at all. Furnham and Bochner's (1982) study of international students in London, Oxford and Cambridge found that 44% of best friends were reported to be co-nationals compared to 20% domestic students. Furnham and Alibhai's (1985) more extensive study with 165 students in London again found a strong preference for co-national friends, although this preference varied across cultural groups: 49% Asian, 69% African, 50% Oriental, 47% European, 61% Middle Eastern, 28% North American, 48% South American, and 39% West Indian. Less than half nominated a British student as their best friend, and 56% said they had no British friends at all. The variations in co-national preferences are influenced by a number of factors, not the least of which is availability of co-nationals. However, the relatively lower in-group preferences expressed by Americans and West Indians suggests that native language fluency in English may facilitate cross-national relationships.

Australian and New Zealand studies also reveal a low incidence of intercultural friendships (e.g., Nowak & Weiland. 1998). Burke (1990) found that only 15% of overseas undergraduates at the University of New South Wales counted Australian students among their closest friends while 45% had close friends from their own country. Smart, Volet and Ang (2000) who interviewed eight international students at Murdoch University in Western Australia found that none had Australian friends.

Aston (1996) who has undertaken the most comprehensive study of international secondary school students in New Zealand also found a prevalence of co-national friendships as presented in Table 1. Although the proportion of host national friendships in this study appears even lower than that reported in overseas research, it should be noted that there are significant differences across studies that may undermine data comparability. First, the Aston study was undertaken with students at secondary schools, as opposed to tertiary institutions. Developmental differences in students at these two levels may contribute to variability in the patterns of friendship choice . Secondly, the New Zealand research is limited to Asian students whereas most parallel studies are based on international student samples of greater cultural diversity (e.g., Furnham & Alibhai, 1985). The relatively high level of cultural distance between New Zealand and many Asian countries could reduce the prevalence of intercultural friendships. Certainly, research has shown that greater perceived cultural distance is associated with more co-national interaction and less satisfaction with host national relations (Leong & Ward, 2000; Ward & Kennedy, 1993a).

Table 1: Nominated best friends of international secondary school students in New Zealand
Nationality of Student Number of Students Number of Co-national Best Friends Number of NZ Best Friends
Hong Kong 43 18 (42%) 1 (2%)
Macau 2 0 (0%) 0 (0%)
Indonesian 14 9 (64%) 1 (7%)
Japanese 71 56 (79%) 6 (8%)
Korean 55 44 (80%) 3 (5%)
Malaysian 55 37 (67%) 3 (5%)
Singaporean 9 4 (44%) 0 (0%)
Taiwanese 47 35 (74%) 7 (15%)
Thai 61 39 (64%) 6 (10%)
Total 348 242 (70%) 27 (11%)

Other studies with international students undertaken in New Zealand converge with these findings and reflect a preference for co-national friendships and a low incidence of interaction with domestic students. Chen and Chieng's (n.d.) survey of 224 Asian students at Canterbury and Lincoln universities reported that 23% of their respondents had no Kiwi friends and that these students were most likely to approach other Asian students if they have problems with study. Pacific Island students have also been reported to rely primarily on co-nationals for social support (Tofi, Flett & Timutimu-Thorpe, 1996).

The apparently low incidence of bonds between international and local students does not reflect complacency in the international group. Evidence suggests that they expect to make local friends, and are open to, and desire, greater contact (Klineberg & Hull, 1979; Ward, Berno & Kennedy, 2000). Zheng and Berry's (1991) study of Chinese students in Canada clearly demonstrated that the students desired more contact than they actually had. Similarly, international students interviewed at Murdoch University indicated that they had high expectations of mixing when they arrived and a strong desire to interact and be part of the student body (Smart, Volet & Ang, 2000).

When I first came, I had the expectation to meet many Australians, but did not. Only hi-bye friends, not close friends
(p. 21).

I thought we will have lots of local friends, both long term and short term (p. 20).

Unfortunately, to a large extent, this is not the case- often to the disappointment of international students. Burns' (1991) study in Australia found that 34% of overseas students mentioned a lack of Australian friends as a major problem. Choi's (1997) research with Koreans in Australia reported that 67% of students were not satisfied with their relationships with Australians and 56% mentioned difficulty in maintaining contact.

A number of researchers, including those in New Zealand, have commented on concerns of social isolation (James & Watt, 1996) and the difficulties of international students in meeting and developing friendships with locals (e.g., Lewthwaite, 1996; Volet & Pears, 1994) despite their desire to do so. Studies also reveal that, on the whole, international students experience greater difficulties and more anxiety in making friends and have less satisfying relationships than domestic students (Barker, Child, Jones, Gallois & Callan, 1991; Beaver & Tuck, 1998; Furnham & Tresize, 1981; Obong, 1997).

The lack of contact is disappointing given the desire for interaction expressed by international students, the general perception of host nationals as friendly (Freudenberger, 1984; Smith, Lambert, Knox, Morey & Foster, 2000) and the obvious benefits of intercultural interactions. There is strong evidence that greater contact with domestic students is associated with psychological, social and academic adaptation. Having local friends and spending more free time with them are related to lower stress levels (Berry & Kostovcik, 1983; Redmond & Bunyi, 1993), positive mood (Furnham & Erdmann, 1995), less depression (Klineberg & Hull, 1979), greater life satisfaction, happiness and self-esteem (Noels, Pon & Clement, 1996). Satisfaction with host national relations and with one's social support network more broadly is also related to enhanced psychological well-being as demonstrated in Tofi, Flett and Timutimu-Thorpe's (1996) study of Pacific Island students and in Searle and Ward's (1990) work with Malaysian and Singaporean students in New Zealand.

Increased contact and satisfaction with the contact are also related to decrements in social difficulties as demonstrated in both studies of international students in New Zealand and New Zealand students overseas (Ward & Kennedy, 1993b; Ward & Searle, 1991). Those who have greater contact with domestic students appear to "fit in" better (Kagan & Cohen, 1990). They also develop greater communication competence (Barratt & Huba, 1994; Chen, 1992; Zimmerman, 1995) and more confidence in the use of their second language (Noels, Pon & Clement, 1996). Additionally, there is some suggestion that greater contact with locals is associated with more positive assessment of teaching quality (Klineberg & Hull, 1979) and greater academic satisfaction (Perucci & Hu, 1995).

Although there appears to be a general willingness in international students for contact with their local peers, evidence also suggests that this willingness varies over conditions. Trice and Elliott's (1993) research with Japanese students in the United States found that older students, males and degree seekers, compared to younger students, females and sojourners on a single year exchange, were more likely to desire contact with their American peers. Gender differences in friendship seeking and success, however, are not consistent over studies. Yang, Teraoka, Eichenfield and Audas (1994) found that female international students were more likely to have meaningful relationships with host nationals in their U.S.-based study while Beaver and Tuck's (1998) research in New Zealand reported no significant differences between males and females in the amount of anxiety experienced in connection with establishing new friendships.

Bochner, Mcleod's and Lin's (1977) classic functional model of friendship suggests that international students operate within three networks of relationships: a primary co-national network whose function is to affirm cultural identity and lend psychological and emotional support, a secondary network of host nationals to facilitate professional and academic aspirations and a third multicultural network whose function is largely recreational. There seems to be some support of this in the research literature. For example, Trice and Elliott's (1993) study revealed that 83% of the Japanese students preferred to discuss personal problems with other Japanese compared to only 57% who chose to study English with other Japanese. Furnham and Alibhai (1985) queried students on their preferred companions for 11 different activities and found that the preference for host national contact was in three areas: help with language problems, help with academic problems, and , surprisingly, going out with a member of the opposite sex. The original study by Bochner, McLeod and Lin (1977) found that host nationals were relied upon for language and academic assistance. More recently, international students in Canada and Australia were also found to prefer locals for seeking language help and solving academic problems- as well as for sightseeing activities (Westwood & Barker, 1990). Similar findings have been reported from international students in Japan (Tanaka, Takai, Kohyama, Fujihara, & Minami, 1994). It is apparent that different networks are used for different functions, but as studies from the United States, Britain, Australia, Israel, New Zealand and Singapore indicate, the host national network is the less salient than the co-national one (Bochner, Buker & McLeod, 1976; Bochner, Hutnik & Furnham, 1985; Bochner & Orr, 1979; Furnham & Bochner, 1982; Klineberg, 1982; Klineberg & Hull, 1979; Nowak & Weiland, 1998; Ong, 2000; Wiseman, 1997).

Research undertaken with international students clearly indicates that students are interested in and open to intercultural interaction and that they expect to have more contact than they actually experience. The literature also reveals that such contact is associated with a number of positive outcomes: psychologically, socially and academically. Far less is known about the interaction patterns of domestic students with international students although a small number of studies by Stephen Bochner and Adrian Furnham have included local students in their surveys.

The earliest of these was the 1977 study by Bochner and colleagues which reported that American students who lived in mixed halls of residence had equal proportions of friends from the United States and from other countries; however, as there were only six local respondents in this research, the external validity of the findings comes under scrutiny. Similarly, Bochner, Hutnik and Furnham's (1985) Oxford study found that 55% of the British students in an international hall of residence had at least one foreign friend, but again there were only 9 respondents to their survey. Slightly more robust data have been provided by Furnham and Alibhai (1985) who reported that British students in London expressed a strong preference (72%) for co-national friends. Of those British students who nominated an international peer as a best friend, these were most commonly European (16%). There were small numbers of Oriental, Middle Eastern and American students found among the best friends, but no Asians, Africans, South Americans or West Indians. This evidence suggests that friendships are more easily formed across the boundaries of culturally similar individuals.

Smart, Volet and Ang's (2000) commissioned report on fostering social cohesion in Australia likewise noted that there are hardly any studies that describe intercultural interactions from the perspective of local students. In an effort to remedy the situation, their exploratory study on students' views of intercultural interactions included both international and domestic students in their interviews at Murdoch University. As previously mentioned, international students expressed the desire and expectation to form intercultural relations. This is illustrated by the comment:

I was disappointed that I could not penetrate the Australian circle of friends...(p. 20).
This desire, however, was not reciprocated by the Australian students. As one student commented:
I heard that there were a lot of Asians attending Murdoch, but it did not worry me. I didn't have any expectations of interacting with them (p. 20).

These attitudes are disappointing, given that a New Zealand study has shown that domestic students report beneficial effects from contact with international students (Eng & Manthei, 1984).

The apparent apathy towards interacting with international students is consistent with the findings of an American university study of majority-minority relations. Specifically, students of colour interacted more across racial and ethnic lines than did white students (Hurtado, Dey & Trevino, 1994). Furthermore, Obong's (1997) U.S.-based research reported that international students were less satisfied with racial harmony on campus than were domestic students, and Beaver and Tuck's (1998) New Zealand study found that Pacific Island and Asian students thought facilitating intercultural interactions at university was more important than did Pakeha students.

Results of Bargel's (1998) research (cited in Otten, 2000) are slightly more optimistic. Although he found that more than 60% of German students had no or hardly any contact with international students, unlike their Australian counterparts who were largely disinterested in intercultural relations, 60% indicated that they would like to have more contact with international students at their university. As can be seen from the broader literature, this appears to be an atypical result, though understandable in its context. With the bulk of international students in Germany coming from other European countries, and the emergence of the European Union, intercultural friendships may be somewhat easier to establish than in instances of more culturally and geographically distant groups.

The apathy towards mixing socially with international students extends into the academic arena (Mills, 1997). Beaver and Tuck's (1998) study of Asian, Pacific Island and Pakeha students in New Zealand revealed that having classes with a mix of cultures and mixing cultures within small group teaching were significantly more important to Asian and Pacific Island students. Pakeha students, by contrast, found it more important to participate in classes with students with a similar level of language competency. The researchers concluded that Pakeha students want to gain their credentials as quickly and efficiently as possible, and some practices, such as mixed language groups, may be seen to impair their progress (p. 177). Volet and Ang (1998) have noted a similar pattern in Australian students, describing "pragmatism" as a reason that domestic students are less likely to seek contact with their international peers.

The difficulties in developing deep and meaningful relationships between domestic students and international students may have increasingly negative consequences over time. For example, Klineberg and Hull (1979) found that international students' attitudes toward hosts were friendly overall on arrival and slightly less so on average after a period of residence abroad. A study of American university students in France likewise found that students who had stayed a longer period of time perceived fewer positive and more negative traits to be associated with their hosts (Stroebe, Lenkert & Jonas, 1988). Early impressions and interactions are obviously important in forming later friendships, and initial disappointment may negatively affect subsequent perceptions and attitudes.

Clearly, close proximity does not necessarily lead to social interaction, and as we shall see later, interaction does not necessarily lead to positive outcomes. There are a number of reasons why students limit their intercultural encounters. One issue that deserves special attention is that of stereotypes, as these have been related to social contact (Spencer-Rodgers, 2000).

Stereotypes of international and domestic students

Although many have argued that international students are stereotyped by peers, faculty, administrators and members of the general community, most information on this topic derives from anecdotal evidence rather than empirical research. There have been few investigations of stereotyping- either of international students or by international students- and even fewer pieces of research that have considered mutual perceptions. The small body of quantitative research that exists, however, converges to indicate that although cross-national stereotypes are mixed, they are more positive, on balance, than negative.

Given that the international student population is composed of such a diverse group of individuals, it is somewhat surprising that domestic students share consensual beliefs about them. This was recently discussed by Spencer-Rodgers (2000) in her study of perceptions of international students at a Californian university. The international stereotype combined positive (intelligent, adventurous, hard-working, determined, friendly, eager to learn and worldly) and negative (different, socially maladjusted, poor language skills, naïve, unsociable) features; although on balance, the image was more favourable than unfavourable. In addition to providing descriptions of international students, domestic students were asked to rate them on a "social thermometer" scaled from 0 to 100. Mean ratings were 68.1, which is somewhat favourable, though noted to be in the comparable range of ratings for socially devalued groups, such as Native Americans in the United States (Haddock, Zanna & Esses, 1994). Despite these moderately positive findings, it is not uncommon for international students to perceive domestic students as uninformed and disinterested in their culture (Mills, 1997; Scott, 1998; Smart, Volet & Ang, 2000).

To date the only empirical study of mutual stereotypes has been undertaken by Bond (1986) who focused on the constructive aspects of stereotyping and their role in maintaining harmonious intercultural contact between host and sojourning students. Bond examined auto-stereotypes (in-group perceptions), hetero-stereotypes (out-group perceptions) and reflected stereotypes (how the out-group is perceived to view the in-group) in local Chinese and American exchange students in Hong Kong. The outcome of the auto- and hetero-stereotype analysis is presented in Table 2.

Table 2: Auto- and Hetero- stereotypes of Chinese and American students in Hong Kong
Chinese (Hetero-) Stereotypes of AmericansAmerican (Hetero-) Stereotypes of Chinese
Questioning, casual, wide range of interests, group-oriented, independent, flexible, considerate, optimistic, active, energetic, frank, spiritual, objective, helpful, open, talkative, sincere, assertive, trusting Diligent, group-oriented, responsible, prudent, composed, spiritual, helpful, gentle, emotionally controlled, conservative, humble, obedient
American Auto-StereotypesChinese Auto-Stereotypes
Questioning, casual, wide range of interests, independent, flexible, active, frank, open, talkative, assertive, trustingComposed, gentle, emotionally controlled, conservative, obedient
  1. Identification of a trait as stereotypically "Chinese" or "American" is based on significant differences between the auto- and hetero-stereotype ratings.

In addition to this item level analysis, the trait data were subjected to a factor analysis resulting in four factors: extraversion, openness, emotional control and beneficence. Both the local and the international groups agreed that the Chinese were less extrovert, more emotionally controlled and less open than the Americans; however, both groups also perceived the other to be more beneficent. Overall the analyses revealed that the stereotypes held by the Americans and Chinese are strong, comprehensive and generally in agreement. Bond maintains that the stereotypes also reflect a "kernel of truth" in that they accurately mirror significant differences in the behavioural characteristics of the two groups.

Bond argued that the nature of these stereotypes contributes to harmonious intergroup relations among university students in Hong Kong. First, the auto- and hetero-stereotypes share a large overlap that accurately reflects intergroup differences. Secondly, the nature of the stereotypes, which casts the Americans as more open, extrovert and emotionally expressive, appropriately suggests that the burden for the initiation of relationship-building should be borne by the overseas students. Despite the asymmetry of the responsibility for relationship-building, both groups perceive the other to be more beneficent than their own, and this further encourages positive intercultural interactions.

Bond concludes that:

These groups co-exist happily in the same geographical space and interact across a wide range of student activities. There is no overt conflict. Clearly, it is possible to have intergroup harmony despite the presence of broad and clear stereotypes about one's in-group and the relevant out-group...(p. 270).

When he further considers how this might occur, he notes that students largely engage in voluntary, equal status contact. He also suggests that there are strong motivations for intercultural interactions, with the Chinese eager to improve their English and the Americans keen to learn about Chinese life first hand. In addition, the relatively small number of American exchange students in Hong Kong precludes the presence of a powerful threat. Indeed, all of these factors have been examined in connection with the contact theory of intergroup relations and have been empirically related to a reduction in intergroup conflict (Bochner, 1982).

Unfortunately, not all intercultural contact between overseas and local students is equal status, voluntary, and cooperative. Sodowsky and Plake (1992) reported that although 41% of the foreign students in an American university said that Americans treated them well, 15% indicated that their treatment was superficial, and another 17% described their treatment as negative. Similarly, 41% of the overseas students said that they treated American students in a friendly fashion, but 10% were reserved and cautious, 9% said the interactions were superficial, and 6% indicated that they did not try to make friends with American students. A commonly cited barrier to intercultural interactions is the belief that Americans are not interested in other cultures (Yang, Teraoka, Eichenfield & Audas, 1994).

Sodowsky and Plake's (1992) figures appear to reflect a reciprocity of treatment although it is impossible to determine if the attitudes/perceptions precede interactive behaviours or vice versa. What is clear, however, that despite Bond's findings in Hong Kong, international and domestic students in other countries experience some ambivalence about who should make the first move. Smart, Volet and Ang's (2000) study revealed that both Asian students and Australians thought the other should take the initiative. As remarked by an Asian student:

The move should come from Australians. We cannot invite ourselves into their homes (p. 22).

In contrast to the comment made by an Australian:

They (Asian students) should interact in this culture. I did expect them to interact (p. 21).

It has been noted, however, that overseas students do tend to create their own subcultures and that this may prevent locals from making initial overtures (O'Donoghue, 1996).

It is not uncommon for international students to perceive prejudice and discrimination (Scott, 1998). Klineberg and Hull (1979) reported that about 30% of international students felt that they had been the object of discrimination in their survey of international students in 11 countries. Seven per cent of the international students in Mullins, Quintrell and Hancock's (1995) Australian university study said on campus prejudice and discrimination were serious problems, and 52% described them as minor problems, and 2 of 12 post-graduate students interviewed from Massey University indicated that they had been victims of racism (Lewthwaite, 1996).

Perceptions of discrimination are often stronger in students who are more culturally dissimilar from members of the host population. For example, European students in the United States disagreed that there was prejudice while African, Asian and South American students (in that order) found discrimination problematic. Perceptions of discrimination are also stronger in sojourners compared to immigrant students (Sodowsky & Plake, 1992). The correlates of perceived discrimination are almost exclusively negative and include increased stress, more identity conflict, less academic satisfaction, and greater psychological and sociocultural adjustment problems (Berno & Ward, 1998; Leong & Ward, 2000; Pak, Dion & Dion, 1991; Perucci & Hu, 1995).

Section summary

The vast majority of research on social contact between international and domestic students has been undertaken from the perspective of the international student. In addition, investigations have been conducted almost exclusively at the tertiary level. Studies converge in the finding that the incidence of intercultural interactions is low and that greater contact is expected and desired by international students. Although studies with domestic students have reported relatively favorable perceptions of international students, most investigations have concluded that domestic students are largely uninterested in initiating contact with their international peers. Significant intercultural interaction is unlikely to occur spontaneously to any large extent, and it is almost certain that interventionist strategies would need to be introduced to promote more and better intercultural activities.

Impact in the classroom

The presence of international students in the classroom has the potential to change both the content and the process of education. These changes may be perceived as positive or negative. For example, educational settings that boast of students from diverse national and cultural backgrounds have intrinsic assets for widening an intellectual perspective and internationalising the content of teaching material. On the other hand, these same students, particularly if originating from non-English speaking backgrounds, may be seen, from the perspective of domestic students, to "waste" too much class time on peripheral issues. In addition, cross-cultural differences in teaching and learning expectations may precipitate awkwardness or discomfort amongst staff and students, both domestic and international. This section considers empirical work relevant to these issues.

Cross-cultural differences in teaching and learning

There is an extensive literature in cross-cultural psychology and in intercultural and multicultural education that documents differences in teacher and student expectations and behaviours across cultures. Factors that are known to vary cross-culturally include the relative importance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, preference for cooperative, competitive and individualist learning, basic approaches to studying, learning styles, and even fundamental conceptions of "intelligence" (Barrett-Lennard, 1997; Chen, 1994; Irvine & York, 1995; Lee & Lodewijks, 1995; Shade & New, 1993; Smith, Miller & Crassini, 1998; Thomas, 1994). Of primary concern in this section, however, are cross-cultural differences in educational expectations and practices, including communication in the classroom (Powell & Andersen, 1994).

The educational environment is a microcosm of the larger society and reflects its values, traditions and practices. Hofstede's (1980) research on work-related values and Triandis' (1990) critical analysis of cultural variability provide interpretive frameworks for understanding the "implicit curriculum" that varies across cultures and affects classroom activities. Two dimensions that exert strong influence on classroom communication and interactions are individualism-collectivism (IC) and power distance (PD). In the broadest terms students from individualist cultures (including New Zealand) are more likely to want to "stand out" in class, to ask questions, give answers and engage in debate. They are often seen as competitive. Students from collectivist cultures (including most Asian countries), in contrast, are more strongly motivated to "fit in." They are less likely to be verbally interactive in classes and are usually unwilling to draw attention to themselves. Collectivism is strongly related to power distance, and those students who are from high PD cultures are also less likely to question and debate. This is generally seen as an inappropriate challenge to the teacher, which may result in loss of face. Students from high power distance cultures are more strongly motivated to show respect to teachers and to maintain formal and distant relationships with them. It is not difficult to see that these differences in cultural values can lead to misperceptions across cultural groups. From one perspective, quiet but attentive collectivist students may be perceived as uninterested or withdrawn by individualist teachers. From another viewpoint, the relatively frequent interruptions to lectures by individualist students may be seen as rude and unmannered by their collectivist classmates.

The empirical literature on intercultural education illustrates these differences. McCargar's (1993) research with Indonesian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Persian, Arabic, Hispanic and Thai ESL (English as a second language) students demonstrated that there are significant discrepancies between their expectations and those of their American teachers. The differences were most pronounced in connection with classroom participation and student-teacher relationships. For example, compared to the teachers, overseas students generally wanted more error correction, believed that they should agree with the lecturer, and more strongly favoured acceptance of authority. On the other hand, the educators were more likely to believe that students should have an internal locus of academic control and take responsibility for their own learning. There were also noticeable differences across the student groups. For example, the Indonesian and Chinese students most strongly opposed the idea that students should be encouraged to disagree with the teacher while the Arab and Persian students were less willing to work in small groups than were the Hispanic, Chinese and Japanese.

Liberman's (1994) qualitative research with Asian students in the United States is largely in agreement with McCargar's (1993) quantitative findings. His interviews revealed that international students were often critical of informality in the classroom, perceived lack of respect for professors, and insufficient focus in classroom interactions. They were also occasionally disparaging of their American peers, particularly with respect to egotism. As stated by a Japanese undergraduate:

American students seem to want to show off their knowledge and intelligence in class and are often overconfident and egotistical; discussions seem to be like competitions (p. 184).

On the other hand, interviews revealed that many students responded positively to a decreased emphasis on memory skills and a closer relationship with teaching staff. They came to be especially enthusiastic about the active learning environment and the ability to express themselves. As noted by a Singaporean student:

They encourage learning. They try to get you interested in the process of learning. In Singapore they don't care if you are interested or not, you just learn it (p. 181).

Overall, the vast majority of Asian students in Liberman's study approved of the critical thinking skills facilitated in the American system.

Broader cross-cultural differences in value systems lead to different assumptions about student and teacher roles in Eastern and Western settings (Becker, 1990; Cortazzi & Jin, 1997; Pratt, 1991; Volet & Kee, 1993). For example, Cortazzi and Jin (1997) argue that Chinese students are more likely to view the teacher as a model, an authority, and a "parent," compared to the British view of the teacher as a facilitator, organiser and friendly critic. Chinese students are also more likely to see their own roles as result-focused, learning by listening and reflection. British teachers, however, expect their students to develop independence, engage in dialogue and develop critical thinking. These differing views are likely to result in dissatisfying and unproductive classroom encounters.

From an American perspective Pratt (1991) similarly noted that teachers are regarded as facilitators who promote learner autonomy. The educational system is adaptive and accommodates the learner who is the centre of the educational process. To the Chinese, however, the teacher is a transmitter of knowledge, a role model and the focus of educational practice. Consequently, if students are unsuccessful in academic pursuits, this is widely perceived as a matter of motivation, effort and ability, not the fault of the teacher. In China it is deemed important to master academic material without questioning; indeed, questioning is often seen as disruptive and disrespectful. Furthermore, emphasis is placed on additive learning, the acquisition of skills and information that complement previously attained knowledge. It is assumed that this type of learning results in greater proficiency and that questioning core beliefs often results in unnecessary difficulties. Similar contrasts have been drawn between the North American and the Japanese systems of education where there is greater social distance between students and teachers, more vertical student-teacher relationships and a one way flow of information, greater formality in the classroom, and more emphasis on rote memory (Becker, 1990).

There is certainly anecdotal evidence that there are large gaps between the expectations of teachers in New Zealand and their Asian students. Common complaints from educators are that Asian students do not contribute to classroom discussions, that they are very successful in rote memory tasks but display less critical and independent thought and that they do not interact well with their local peers. There is also evidence that cultural differences in educational practices are recognised by students. Chen and Chieng's (n.d.) study of Asian students at Lincoln and Canterbury universities found that 80% cited different learning styles as a significant study problem and that many remarked on difficulties in group discussions with Kiwi students. Beaver and Tuck's (1998) study of tertiary students indicated that Asian and Pacific Island students showed more concern about asking questions and approaching lecturers than did Pakeha students. Despite these concerns, there is also evidence that international students' perceptions of teaching staff are generally positive. Chen and Chieng reported that 60% of Asian students thought lecturers are friendly to Asian students and 64% described them as patient. This is particularly important in that overseas studies have shown that academic staff are a more important source of social support for international than domestic students (Jou & Fukada, 1996).

Changes in the classroom

While cross-cultural differences clearly exist and are recognised as at least somewhat problematic by international students, the question of interest is how do they impact on the classroom? The immediate answer is we don't know. Critics have argued that educators frequently adopt negative and stereotypic views of international students (e.g., Ballard & Clanchy, 1984; Samuelowicz, 1987). Volet and Renshaw (1995) have described this tendency as the "application of a deficit model" (p. 409) and criticised the failure of educators to consider the performance of international students in the context in which it is embedded. Adams (1992) has remarked that students who are not from the dominant cultural group can often be misunderstood as "under-prepared, unmotivated or unintelligent" (p. 7), and there is evidence that local students believe minority students expect more help from teachers than they actually do (Tatar & Horenczyk, 1996). Finally, a scan of recent writings on instructional advice for teaching international students shows that a noticeable proportion of the literature reflects the deficit approach to learning and includes a range of patronising recommendations (e.g., Collingridge, 1999; Lee, 1997). This suggests an "unexamined ethnocentrism" in the relationship between international students and teachers from the ethno-cultural majority group (Gillborn, 1995; Lawrence & Daniel Tatum, 1997).

One might reasonably expect that with increasing numbers of international students in New Zealand classrooms that we could observe a significant impact, and indeed, it has been argued that this should be the case (Kennedy, 1995). The reality, however, is that there have been no systematic studies that have examined this issue. In addition, it is widely agreed that although there is an expanding literature on intercultural education and increasing development of training materials to enhance sensitivity among intercultural educators, in practice, the responsibility for adapting to and succeeding in a new educational system falls on the overseas student (Banks & Banks, 1995; Volet & Renshaw, 1995). This theme was echoed in the focus group discussions of Asian university students in New Zealand (Chen & Chieng, n.d.). Fortunately, students are largely successful in adapting to these demands (Parr, Bradley & Bingi, 1992). Australian research has demonstrated that international students adapt well over time and that even after one semester their learning goals and evaluations of study resemble those of local students (Volet, Renshaw & Tietzels, 1994). Similar findings have been reported with international students in the Netherlands (Jochems, Snippe, Smid & Verweij, 1996).

Barber and Morgan (1988) considered educational impact issues in their survey of 651 departmental chairpersons and 943 faculty members in engineering schools in the United States. One of the major questions addressed in their research was whether education was changing to meet the needs of international students. They found that there was no evidence of significant change although 10% of their respondents used relevant teaching examples and 20% used international students as resources in class discussions.

This is consistent with Smith's (1998) survey in an American university which asked professors to consider their attitudes toward cultural diversity and assimilation. Data provided through surveys and interviews confirmed that instructors largely adopted an assimilationist attitude, believing that it was incumbent for international students to adapt to the educational system in the United States and that special accommodation should be minimised. They maintained that it is imperative to hold the same standards for everyone, they rarely took the time to check on difficulties that international students may experience, and they largely took for granted that international students understand to the same extent as local students what they are expected to do. On the positive side respondents acknowledged that international students raise the "intellectual atmosphere" on campus, but on the negative side they cited clannishness as a potential problem.

Although the presence of international students has been assumed to enhance the potential for internationalisation, there is no widespread evidence that the content of curricula has changed significantly. Informal discussions with international student advisers suggest that changes are in place, and qualitative reports suggest that there is some movement in this area (Fenwick, 1987). However, Burke's (1990) discussion of international education in Australia concluded that:

The presence of international students in classes or at an institution rarely prompts faculty members to internationalise what they teach or results in (domestic students) becoming internationally educated in a serious way (p. 5).

Indeed, Edwards and Tudball (2000) reported that only a minority of secondary pupils in Victoria study internationalisation formally. This is consistent with the conclusions of a recent Canadian study by Knight (2000) which found that:

Overall there appears to be a low level of interest and activity by faculty members to internationalise the curriculum and the teaching/learning process (p. 88).

Obviously there is a need for policy to underpin and direct internationalisation, as it rarely emerges spontaneously or in a naturally organised fashion.

The literature has described examples of altering curricula content and, to some extent, processes and responses to these initiatives (e.g., Allameh, 1996; Carty, Hale, Carty, Williams, Rigney & Principato, 1998). Dickson (1998), for example, has described a method where 9th graders (14 year olds) were asked to interview immigrants and refugees to construct a brief life history. The students, who knew very few international people, were offered access to new and unfamiliar people and experiences. The project was described as prompting positive outcomes, including intercultural friendships, enhanced cultural awareness amongst students and staff, and an increased sense of empowerment for the students interviewed. However, the project was not subjected to rigourous evaluation, and it is difficult to determine the outcomes with confidence.

A similar project was described by Schmid (1995) as a class-based ethnography and a novel approach to teaching sociology. Schmid argued that the project engendered positive effects in both the domestic and international students. He supports this with comments from the participants.

The project changed my view of international students. I never really cared for them, but after interviewing them I found they're just like me in a way (p. 337).

This was a wonderful experience for me. I have made friends that more than likely I would not have even met before. I no longer have the stereotypes I once had and made quite a few acquaintanceships along the way (p. 337).

Single examples may be found in the literature from various institutional sources on the internationalisation of the curriculum. Back, Davis and Olsen (1998) have described activities at Auckland Institute of Technology to internationalise the curriculum for the Bachelor of Business in International Business and the undergraduate programme in Art and Design. In Australia, Smart, Volet and Ang (2000) reviewed efforts undertaken by Curtin University's School of Design. Nilsson (2000) has similarly described efforts to internationalise curricula in Sweden, van der Wende (1997) in the Netherlands and Umakoshi (1997) in Japan. Scott (1994) has discussed the internationalisation efforts at Ramapo College in New Jersey and Lawson and Tubbs (1996) in the Californian university system. These efforts have included not only curriculum development but also professional development for staff. Although these programmes are guided by policy and planning rather than emerging spontaneously in reaction to increasing numbers of international students, they have not been systematically evaluated.

Section summary

Although cross-cultural differences exist in educational traditions and expectations, there has been little to no direct research undertaken on how this impacts on the classroom. Evidence suggests that for the most part educators (particularly those at the tertiary level) make few, if any, changes in either the process or content of classroom activities. While there is considerable potential for bringing an international perspective to the classroom, and there have been examples of how this might be achieved, there has been little research on either the extent or the outcomes of such activities. Within the local context Smith and Parata (1997) commented:

Within New Zealand there have been no national surveys or studies to analyse the extent to which higher education curricula have become internationalised either in content or in form (p. 123).

Back, Davis and Olsen's (1998) research which followed reported that 19 of 34 tertiary institutions surveyed in New Zealand had strategies in place to internationalise the form and content of the curriculum; however, there has been no systematic evaluation of these initiatives. Clearly this is an area that deserves further attention.

Impact on the institution

The positive and negative consequences of increased international students have been discussed in the literature although a limited amount of research has actually been undertaken in the area (Altbach, 1991). Benefits have been largely framed in terms of internationalising educational environments while costs have been linked to heavy demands put on institutional support services. In the first instance discussions are often rhetorical and infrequently based on empirical evidence. In the latter, research is available, though patchy, and largely limited to tertiary institutions.

One issue that has received a certain amount of attention in the literature on international education is the concern that international students may be displacing their local peers (Pffafenroth, 1997). This, of course, will be dependent upon recruitment and retention policies at various institutions. In New Zealand the Education Act ensures that domestic students will not be displaced by international students and that there will be no cross-subsidy of international education by the Crown.

In other countries like the United States it has been the case that in contrast to displacing domestic students, international students have been responsible for the survival of certain university programmes (Barber & Morgan, 1988). Burke (1991) has also argued that a little known benefit of international students is the extent to which they underpin research activities in Australian universities. Similar claims have been made about international students in the United Kingdom (Fenwick, 1987), and it is likely that the same could be said of specific areas of study (e.g., business) in New Zealand tertiary institutions (Scotts, personal communication).

Internationalising institutions

Davis, Milne and Olsen (1999) conducted a survey in Australian universities about the impact of international experience, including its influence on students, staff, teaching and learning. A number of positive outcomes were identified by respondents from 15 universities. Internationalisation of the curriculum and enhancement of personal and social development of individual students were cited as were continuous improvement and enhanced competitiveness of the university, provision of benchmarks, increasing international networks, and enhancing the reputation and international profile of the institution.

In a Canadian report Knight (2000) found increasing commitment to the internationalisation of colleges and universities including the establishment of new organisational systems and structures, expanded recruitment efforts and the development of new institutional partnerships. Reported benefits of internationalisation included "new opportunities for scholarship and research for faculty and positive attitudinal change and enhanced job mobility for students" (p. 3). It is important to appreciate, however, these claims are based on the management's view of changes which are believed to be occurring, rather than on direct measures of change.

Institutional benefits of internationalisation, including the preparation of New Zealanders to engage effectively in the "global village," were also cited by Back, Davis and Olsen (1998) in their review of tertiary institutions. However, this was viewed very much in terms of potential. The authors noted that there was little evidence of a widespread culture of internationalisation across the sector and that some areas, such as the provision of cross-cultural training, were deficient.

Funding for internationalisation initiatives is a common concern (Heaton & Throsby, 1998; Knight, 2000), but beyond economic considerations, a minority of researchers have expressed the belief that aspects of internationalisation bring significant costs along with benefits (Bailey, 1984). Aston (1996), for example, suggested that the growing numbers of Asian students in New Zealand schools has resulted in problems for both international and domestic students. Aston's study of New Zealand secondary schools included the survey of 42 teachers in charge of international students. Teachers were asked about the advantages and disadvantages of international students in their school. Increased cross-cultural exposure was cited as the major "plus" factor, and pressure arising from limited language ability cited as the most problematic issue by these teachers. A more comprehensive summary of the findings is presented below with the number of respondents to each item in parentheses.

Advantages of international students:

  • Providing the opportunity for New Zealand students to be exposed to other cultures (42/42).
  • Financial benefits (33/42).
  • Good work habits of international students provide positive examples for NZ students (13/42).
  • Challenges for teachers to be creative and adaptable (8/42).
  • Assistance to NZ students in learning Asian languages (4/42).

Disadvantages of international students:

  • Limited English ability leading to additional pressure on classroom teachers (16/42).
  • Limited interaction between international and domestic students (14/42).
  • Racial disharmony (9/42).
  • Different learning styles (8/42).
  • Jealousy of NZ students over spending power of Asian students (8/42).

In addition, Aston obtained responses from the Boards of Trustees in 38 schools who have fee-paying Asian students. The three major advantages identified by Board Members were (in order of priority) cultural, financial and academic. Difficulties were associated with lack of intercultural interaction, extra work load generated for staff and language problems.

Comparative case studies were also undertaken by Aston with institutions in Australia and the United Kingdom. Perceived advantages and disadvantages were largely in line with the New Zealand findings with emphasis on cultural and financial benefits and concerns about language proficiency and problems with integration.

Some of these themes are also echoed in Donn and Schick's (1995) study of primary, intermediate and secondary schools in New Zealand. Language issues, cross-cultural differences in teaching styles and domestic students' perceptions of their international peers, particularly resentment over their financial assets, were seen as problematic, especially in secondary schools.

It is widely believed that the presence of international students can enrich campuses and enhance international understanding (McCollow, 1989), but there has been little systematic research to demonstrate these effects. At present it appears that the potential may be largely unrealised, and that its attainment is dependent upon directed policy development and implementation rather than the mere presence of an international body of students.

Use of support services

Although many educational institutions provide specialised support for international students, this section is focused on generic student services and their comparative usage by domestic and international students.

While there are a number of reasons to expect that international students may place heavy demands on student services, the evidence about actual usage is mixed. Research generally indicates that international students suffer more psychological and social distress than domestic students. Sam and Eide's (1991) research with university students in Scandinavia showed that international students displayed more symptoms of depression, anxiety and psychosomatic disorders than their domestic peers. Chataway and Berry's (1989) study of Chinese students at a Canadian university similarly found that the Chinese had more psychological, social and health problems than the Canadian students, and in the United States Lippincott and Mierzwa (1995) reported that Asian undergraduates displayed more psychological symptoms of distress than American undergraduates. Although evidence of increased psychological and social distress in international students is common (Burns, 1991; Mullins, Qunitrell & Hancock, 1995), these studies do not provide information on actual service usage. Indeed, there is some evidence that usage is sometimes lower than predicted as found in a recent analysis of service usage at Otago University (Scotts, personal communication).

This is an important point as Furnham and Tresize (1981), who surveyed university students in London, found that although international students experienced more psychological and psychosomatic complaints than domestic students, there was no difference in the number of doctor's visits between the two groups. The pattern of service usage is likely to be affected by a number of factors including cultural conceptions of health, illness, and treatment as well as practical issues related to service accessibility. For example, Zheng and Berry's (1991) study of Chinese students in Canada found that the international students did experience poorer health than the Canadians, but that the Canadian students were more likely to believe in the importance of consulting a doctor early.

A number of dated studies in the United States have documented greater than average attendance rates at university health services by international students (e.g., Ray, 1967; Rice, 1974), and Allen and Cole's (1987) well-designed research, which controlled for age, sex and place of residence, found that Asian students in Melbourne did consult more frequently than their Australian peers (on average 3 compared to 1.4 visits per year); however, they consulted less frequently than a comparative group at home. In addition, the elevated consulting rates of Asian students in this study were specifically related to consults for respiratory ailments.

More recently, Quintrell (1992) found that international students in Australia were more likely to use health and counselling services than their domestic counterparts, but that this was more apparent in Adelaide than in Sydney and Melbourne where students were more likely to have family members in the area. The use of counselling services by international students is a contentious issue. Some have argued that while these students will consult a health care provider for physical symptoms, they will seldom accept referral to counsellors or clinicians (Aubrey, 1991) and that they generally under-utilise counselling services (Bergman & Misra, 1997; Brinson & Kottler, 1995). Kinoshita and Bowman (1998) found that Japanese students on U.S. campuses were less likely to seek emotional and interpersonal help than their American peers and attributed this to culturally different help-seeking preferences. Others have suggested that Western notions of counselling are foreign to many international students (Leong & Chou, 1996).

While there is evidence that international students may use some health services more frequently than domestic students, there is no suggestion in the research literature that the usage rates are high or that institutions have not been able to cope with demands. Burns (1991) has maintained that both local and international students in Australia are aware of support services although few use them. Bergman and Misra (1997) reported that counselling and career services were not frequently utilised by international students in Canada, and Abe, Talbot and Gellhoed's (1998) research in the United States found that 72% of international students reported never using the career service, 78% the counselling service, 72% the employment office, 45% the health centre and 52% student organisations.

Although there is relatively little information available on membership in student associations, the few studies available suggest that international students do not widely participate in clubs and social activities on campuses. Obong's (1997) study with international students in the United States found that they saw less opportunity for involvement in campus activities than did local students. Similarly, Kaczmarek, Matlock, Merta, Ames and Ross (1994) noted that international students had less institutional attachment than local students. Chen and Chieng's (n.d.) study reported that 31% of Asian students at Lincoln and 27% of those at Canterbury were involved in clubs and associations; however, these were most often Asian associations within the university.

Section summary

This section has considered the potential benefits of increasing international students in schools and tertiary institutions in terms of internationalising educational environments and the potential costs in terms of demands placed on support services. In the first instance, the literature more frequently addresses possible benefits rather than actual or perceived; however, there is some suggestion that increasing cultural awareness may result. In the second instance, research indicates that international students experience more problems than domestic students and in some circumstances that they make greater use of health services. The overall usage of support services is still relatively low, however, and no evidence has been located that indicates generic support services are strained by international students.

Impact in the Community

The relationship between international students and the communities in which they reside is a topic of considerable importance. Despite the need to learn more about the dynamics of these interactions, most research has been conducted within educational institutions as opposed to within the broader community. This point merits further attention as for some international students, such as those in English language schools, the major point of contact with host nationals is in the community, rather than the educational setting.

There have been no studies identified that have explicitly examined the impact of international students on the larger community; however, there is research that can provide some insight into the relationship between international students and members of the host culture. These include studies of perceived discrimination and research on home stays. There are also some descriptive writings about community outreach programmes although these are rarely evaluated.

Prejudice and discrimination

Although there is some suggestion that international students perceive greater discrimination in the broader community than at their educational institutions, this is not strongly supported by empirical evidence. Burke (1997) surveyed international students at the University of New South Wales (Sydney) and commented that students experienced lower levels of personal discrimination on campus, but were subjected to "some racial harassment of an impersonal and anonymous kind" off campus. Mullins, Quintrell and Hancock (1995) quantified this in their study of university students in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne. Ten per cent of the students in this study found off campus prejudice and discrimination to be a serious problem and 54% saw it as a minor problem. This is similar to 7% and 52%, respectively, on campus.

Home stays

Studies with tertiary students suggest that major support networks are found within the educational setting and that there is relatively superficial contact with members of the larger community. Only 7.6% of the 224 Asian students in Chen and Chieng's (n.d.) study were lodged in home stays and only 20% were involved in local clubs or associations.

Home stays are more central to the experience of secondary school students, and Aston's (1996) study suggests that they are often a source of significant distress. Almost half (46%) of the Asian students in his research changed their home stays. Frequently cited reasons were: problems with home stay families and location of premises. Unhappiness over home stays was commonly cited as an area of concern by Asian parents, and students maintained that the most important factor that schools could take into account when arranging home stays was tolerance of different customs. While it has been suggested that international student exchanges involving host families help to foster cross-cultural awareness in the community (Jardine, 1990), there has been no systematic evaluation of these claims.

Community programmes

The literature includes some examples of community outreach programmes that utilise international students for special events such as International Day, student sponsored workshops, Global Week, international food fests, school presentations and even community service programmes such as voluntary work in nursing homes and alternative schools (Allameh, 1996; Ebert & Burnett, 1993; Hochhauser, 1990; Paige, 1990). Although it is suggested that these strengthen international awareness in the host community, there has been no systematic evaluation of these activities to document the claims.

Section summary

The relationship between international students and the communities in which they reside has attracted some discussion in the international education literature, but little research. Despite the need to learn more about the dynamics of these interactions, most investigations of cross-national relations have been confined to educational institutions. This trend clearly merits further attention, particularly given that for some international students (e.g., those in English language schools), the wider community, rather than the educational environment, provides the major point of contact with host nationals.

In the main very little is known about the integration of international students into the larger community. Research is inconclusive as to whether prejudice and discrimination encountered there are more problematic than within the educational setting. Home stays have been suggested to offer the opportunity for fostering intercultural relations and increasing intercultural understanding; however, some data indicate that these arrangements are a significant source of stress for international students. Positive aspects of community programmes have also been described in the literature; however, these have largely been developed and reported on in an ad hoc fashion and have not been systematically evaluated.

Part 2: Fostering cohesion and enhancing international understanding

Research has shown that the presence of international students, even in large numbers, is insufficient in itself to promote intercultural interactions, to develop intercultural friendships and to result in international understanding. Rather, situations must be structured to foster these processes. Research has also shown that students, both local and international, perceive it is the responsibility of educational institutions to increase and enhance intercultural interactions (Smart, Volet & Ang, 2000). This section reviews some strategies that have been used, evaluated and proven to foster positive intercultural perceptions and relations.

Peer-pairing programmes

Peer-pairing or "buddy" systems are one of the most frequently adopted schemes to assist international students to adapt to their new environments. They have been used for the general international student population (e.g., Quintrell & Westwood, 1994), for students on specific courses (Bigelow, 1996) and for English as a second language students (Blakely, 1995). On the whole, these schemes are strongly advocated by international students (Alexander & Shaw, 1991) and appear to be very effective. Abe, Talbot and Geelhoed (1998) found that international students who participated in peer programmes were better adjusted socially than those who did not. Quintrell and Westwood (1994) reported that peer-paired international students appear better integrated into their educational environment and are more likely to make use of institutional support services.

Peer programmes are frequently used to facilitate intercultural interactions. Research by Westwood and Barker (1990), who implemented and evaluated peer-pairing programmes in Australia and Canada, provides an example of this. In their research local peers were recruited and trained in a range of roles: cultural interpreters, facilitators and information givers, referral agents, confidants and friends. Participating students met minimally twice a month, and common types of contact involved study skills, accessing facilities and services, family invitations, travel, sport and recreation, entertainment, social activities, and referrals. Programme evaluations confirmed that international students who chose to participate in the peer-pairing had higher academic averages across three years of university study. They also had a stronger preference for interacting with local students than those who had not participated in the programme. It should be noted, however, that pre-participation indicators of academic performance and social interactions were not taken before the peer-pairing commenced, and as students chose to participate in the scheme, rather than having been randomly assigned to conditions, the possibility that pre-existing differences contributed to the findings cannot be eliminated.

Unfortunately this study did not report the effects of peer-pairing programmes on domestic students although Westwood, Lawrance and McBlane (1986) described anticipated long and short term benefits for hosts in an earlier paper, and Quintrell (2001, personal communication) suggested that the effects may be even more positive for local than international students. Suggested benefits include: increased cultural awareness and sensitivity, establishment of international friendships, and opportunities for future work, travel and study abroad. Some of these suggestions appear to be borne out in research by Legge and Allemeh. Legge's study at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (cited in Smart, Volet and Ang, 2000) reported that the most commonly expressed outcome of their peer-pairing programme was greater social contact among students. Allameh's (1996) report on peer programmes set up for both secondary and tertiary students documented a wide range of positive comments from the local students.

The experience was very rewarding to me because it gave me the chance to experience a different culture first hand (p. 15).

I realise for the first time that all the ideas and concepts that I have learned about other cultures are not just stories but actual facts. I think that even though I have talked about cultural differences in some of my classes, I never really stopped to realise what I was learning is going on in the present (p. 15).

The American way is not the only way to do things. Our way is not always better! (p.15)

In some instances peer-pairing has been found to have course-specific effects for domestic students. Bigelow's (1996) description of a peer-pairing programme for second and third year MBA students found that one of the most significant advantages noted by local students was an insight into cross-cultural management. In addition to an increase in specific knowledge areas, it has been suggested that peer-pairing can also have psychological benefits for its participants. Kennedy and Dewars (1997) noted that local peers assumed an important role in the educational system and suggested that assisting NESB students may positively affect self-esteem. Black (1993) similarly noted that local students appreciated the opportunity to act as peer tutors and appraised the activity as a valuable learning experience.

Cooperative learning

The low levels of intercultural contact in social domains is largely reflected in classroom activities. Although culturally mixed groups offer the opportunity for increased contact and intercultural learning, research reveals that these types of groups rarely form spontaneously. Volet and Ang's (1998) research in an Australian university suggests that Australians prefer low levels of contact with Asian students- despite the positive outcomes of such interactions.

To explore the outcomes of cooperative learning in culturally diverse groups Volet and Ang interviewed 40 second year business students who participated in group projects. These students were required to complete two assignments in self-selected groups of up to four students. Two groups were composed of Australian students only and three of international students. Although six groups were mixed, they were constituted more by "chance than choice," with students generally missing the previous tutorial where the groups were originally formed.

After completion of assignments students participated in focus group discussions about culturally mixed groups and any changes experienced in those conditions. Both Australian and international students initially preferred working in "their own" groups. This was due to four major reasons:

  • cultural connectedness
  • language
  • pragmatism; and
  • negative stereotypes.

The following comments reflect these themes.

Sometimes it's easier to talk to people who come from the same country (p. 10).

Sometimes we don't understand what they are saying and sometimes they don't understand what we are saying (p. 13).

We don't have families here so we can spend much more time studying (p. 13).

I believe they have great ideas but no motivation to work (p. 13).

After working in culturally mixed groups, however, students realised their stereotyped views, that cultural differences may not be as important as individual differences, and that misperceptions can be corrected. As indicated by an Australian student's comment:

With opportunities to work together, perceptions change (p. 16).

Despite these positive outcomes, Australian students were not ready to be proactive in seeking mixed group activities. Their comments largely reflected a willingness but not a strong interest in working with international students.

I would not go out of my way to work with them, but I would not avoid it (p. 17).

Coughlan's (1996) qualitative study of students in a TAFE college in Western Australia was a bit more encouraging. Students appeared comfortable with culturally mixed group work. As expressed by one Australian student:

We have had group activities where we are mixed up and things have worked fine so I think it was good that teachers did it like that (p. 13).

Smart, Volet and Ang (2000) reported similar results. In their research 17 students (8 international and 9 local) at Murdoch University were interviewed, and most expressed positive attitudes about working in culturally mixed groups.

It's a good idea to have group work where people mix. It gives you different perspectives, and ideas of how people think and behave. Widens your ways of thinking. It is a valuable experience, a part of learning (p. 37).

However, it is interesting to note that the local students in this research were selected on the basis of their appointment as student representatives in the Student Residential Village; therefore, they already experienced a reasonably high level of contact with international students. Indeed, there is wider evidence to suggest that cross-cultural experience is generally associated with positive attitudes toward participating in culturally mixed groups. Volet's (1999) study found that Australian students with experience of "crossing cultural borders" were more likely to be found in spontaneously occurring mixed groups. More specifically, 64% of Australians found in these groups had bicultural backgrounds compared to only 8% in the Australian only groups.

Despite the general resistance to working in culturally mixed groups, there is considerable evidence that this practice produces positive academic and social benefits. This evidence, however, has been derived primarily from research on teaching and learning in culturally diverse classes within single societies (within society contact) rather than in classes of international and domestic students (between society contact) and in primary and secondary schools rather than in tertiary settings (Ward & Rzoska, 1994). First, there is strong evidence that cooperative learning in culturally mixed groups produces higher levels of academic achievement across ability groups (Lucker, Rosenfield, Sikes & Aronson, 1976; Slavin & Oickle, 1981). Secondly, cooperative groups enhance cross-ethnic friendships (Wiegel, Wiser & Cook , 1975; Cooper, Johnson, Johnson, & Wilderson, 1980). Rzoska and Ward (1991), for example, found more intercultural friendship choices among Maori and Samoan children who had been exposed to cooperative rather than competitive group learning conditions in Christchurch schools. Ziegler (1981) documented improvements in intercultural relations among Canadian children of Anglo, Italian, Chinese, Greek and West Indian heritage. In addition, Warring, Johnson, Maruyama and Johnson's (1985) research found that relationships formed under cooperative learning conditions extended to other social activities at school.

Shachar and Amir (1996) have discussed the effectiveness of cooperative learning, which they refer to as a "school integration approach" in contrast with conventional teaching methods and in relation to the contact theory of intergroup relations. They argue that more traditional teaching is often based on an assumption of "sameness" where diversity (cultural, ethnic or ability) is frequently perceived as an impediment to academic progress. Such an approach advocates initial assessment of students' abilities, followed by assignment to ability groups, and adapting subject material, usually presented in traditional frontal type of whole-class instruction. In contrast to this, the integration approach is based on the assumption that diversity constitutes an opportunity for student and teacher enrichment. The teaching methods adopted are informed by contact theory that requires intergroup interactions to be characterised by:

  • equal status contact
  • cooperation
  • meaningful and involved participation
  • activities sanctioned by the relevant authorities and
  • satisfaction with the situation experienced by participants (p. 404).

The cooperative learning strategy generally includes the following features.

  • classrooms divided into small heterogeneous groups which constitute the learning units
  • students interact directly with one another
  • interaction includes mutual cooperation, assistance and exchange of ideas in pursuit of a common goal and
  • small groups assume responsibility for selecting, planning, implementing and presenting learning outcomes (p. 404, see Sharan, 1994, for a full range of cooperative learning methods).

These conditions fulfil the requirements of the contact theory as illustrated in Table 3.

Table 3: Comparison between two education approaches based on the 'Contact Theory of Intergroup Relations' (Sachar & Amir, 1996, p.405)

Contact Conditions Assessment-Assignment-
Cooperative Learning
Equal Status Absent: Students assigned to ability groups according to academic level Present: All groups share same activity
Cooperation Absent: Prevailing instructional method fosters competition Present: Learning tasks based on cooperation
Meaningful situation Often absent: Learning tasks are routine and imposed by teacher Often present: Students are empowered to make choices and decisions
Support by authorities Absent when school authorities employ a policy of tracking and ability grouping Present when school adopts instructional methods supporting cooperation
Satisfaction Depends on chance factors such as an unusual teacher Present: Students manage their own behaviour

Given the analysis offered by Sachar and Amir it is apparent that cooperative learning methods hold great potential for enhancing academic performance and increasing social cohesion among international and domestic students. Fortunately, the New Zealand curriculum includes social and cooperative skills among the specified eight essential skills for students and advocates working cooperatively to achieve common goals (Ministry of Education, 1993, p. 19).

To date, however, although these programmes have been advocated for international and domestic students (van der Wende, 1997), there has been no systematic evaluation of the learning outcomes of cooperative programmes with international and domestic students either here or abroad.

Residential programmes

University residences offer opportunities for social interaction and friendship formation although studies have shown that close proximity does not necessarily lead to close relationships (Nesdale & Todd, 1993). Intervention strategies have proven more effective. Along these lines, Smart, Volet and Ang (2000) have described Murdoch University's initiatives in their Student Village. Students who are admitted to the residence are assigned to 6-8 bedroom flats with shared common room, kitchen and bathrooms. The flats are mixed by race, gender and nationality, and students are required to accept assignment rather than choosing their own flatmates. Despite initial uneasiness about these arrangements, students reported long term friendship formation, removal of racial stereotypes and social cohesion. Although the students acknowledged that they would not have voluntarily selected these culturally mixed groups at the outset, they are nonetheless more receptive to forming friendships in the early stages of their university careers (Volet & Ang, 1998). Indeed, other studies have shown that, at least for international students, first impressions are important, relate to attitudes toward members of the host culture, and predict the amount and patterns of social interaction (Foley & Clawson, 1988).

The best documentation of effective interventions in residential settings has been provided by Todd and Nesdale (1997) in their work in an Australian university. One hundred and forty-seven students (78 international and 69 local) participated in their research with 76 of these students exposed to the experimental residential programme. Three areas of student life were targeted for promoting interaction: the orientation programme, college tutorials and floor group activities. In addition, to facilitate incidental contact approximately equal numbers of international and domestic students were assigned to each wing of each floor of the college residence.

Seven months later students in four residential colleges were administered questionnaires to assess their intercultural contact, knowledge and acceptance. Significant differences emerged between Australian students who resided in the college with the experimental programme compared to students who resided in other colleges. Although all colleges had a similar mix of domestic and international students, Australian students from the experimental residence were more likely to engage generally in intercultural contact and to interact more frequently with international students in connection with assignments, leisure pursuits, and travel. They were more knowledgeable about intercultural issues, and they were more interested in taking part in future activities designed to promote intercultural interactions. Australian students in the experimental programme also maintained that intercultural friendships are more important, that they more frequently attempted intercultural friendships and that they had more success in forming these friendships.

Despite the positive effects of the residential programme on Australian students, there were no significant differences between the international students in the four residences. This may be partially influenced by their pre-contact attitudes as studies have shown that in general international students have greater interests in interacting with local students than vice versa (Nesdale & Todd, 1993). If this is the case, this study would suggest that intervention strategies such as these are more effective in eliciting change in apathetic than motivated students.

In discussion of their work Todd and Nesdale (1997) argue that three factors were critical for the success of the intervention, and these should be borne in mind by educators and administrators. First, the programme is based on the assumption that "the more an intervention programme overlaps or coincides with the full range of a student's daily routine...., the more likely it is to be successful" (pp. 71-72). Second, the success of such programmes is dependent upon the skills and commitment of student leaders and support persons. And third, the programme's success is dependent upon the positive involvement and active participation of the students themselves.

Section summary and points for consideration

This section has reviewed three strategies that have been used to enhance intercultural relations between international and domestic students: peer-pairing, cooperative learning and residential programmes. Varying degrees of success have been reported in evaluation studies.

Peer-programmes are used to assist international students to adapt to a new cultural and educational environment. They have also been used successfully to increase intercultural interactions. An important point for consideration, however, is that peer interactions should involve equal status contact. If programmes are set up to place local students in the expert or donor role and international students in the learner or recipient role, the programmes are less likely to empower the international student and to enhance intergroup relations. It is important for international students to contribute something tangible to the interactive process. Whether their contribution is framed as cultural informant, language teacher or some other role, it is essential that their contribution can be recognised by both parties.

Cooperative learning in group settings has also been found to enhance intergroup relations although much of the evidence for this has been taken from research on heterogeneous within-society groups. The conditions for fostering social cohesion in these groups meet the criteria specified by the contact hypothesis, and the strategy shows good potential for use with international and domestic students. However, more research should be undertaken to ensure that the positive effects of cooperative learning will extend to these groups. There are reasons to believe that cooperative methods are more familiar to and comfortable for members of certain cultures than others (Ward & Rzoska, 1991) and the strength of positive effects may vary between domestic and international students as they have been shown to vary in majority and minority children (Conoley & Conoley, 1983).

Residential programmes have also been used to foster social cohesion among domestic and international students. Unfortunately, the only in-depth description of how this has been achieved has been provided by Todd and Nesdale (1997). They have also relied upon elements of contact theory to guide the development of their programme, which involved both goal oriented (tutorials) and recreational activities. The significance of their study is that contact in residential halls extended into other contact situations, increasing intercultural knowledge and friendships more generally. One clear advantage of residential programmes is that they may be implemented in the earliest stages of transition to a new educational institution. This is a period at which students are most receptive to forming new friendships. This point should also be borne in mind in developing orientation programmes with a particular view to bringing domestic and local students together for these activities, at least for a portion of the programmes (Mullins, Quintrell & Hancock, 1995).

Overall, there is some material available about intervention schemes that promote social cohesion, and there is theory that may guide us in programme development; however, there is very little information available that is based on the development, implementation and evaluation of programmes specifically designed for domestic and international students in schools and tertiary institutions. In that regard, Smart, Volet and Ang (2000) have accurately summarised the present state of the art:

We have some ideas about programmes in a range of domains that seem to foster increased social interaction. However, in very few cases do we have rigorous evaluations or detailed case studies which could help us establish the underlying principles and dynamics that would be likely to enable design and implementation of more universally applicable initiatives (p. 49).

Recommendations and Conclusions


Despite an extensive cross-cultural literature on the experiences, problems and patterns of adaptation of international students (see Ward, in press; Ward, Bochner & Furnham, 2001), there is relatively little information available on their impact on domestic students, host institutions and the wider communities in which they reside. Studies of intercultural interactions have shown that the amount of spontaneous contact between international and domestic students is low although positive outcomes of this contact have been documented. There is considerable discussion in international education about the benefits presumed to arise as a natural consequence of the increasing presence of international students; however, this is founded more on opinion than on empirical evidence. In most cases interventions are required to maximise the benefits of internationalisation, and although the outcomes appear promising, there have been few well-planned evaluations to confirm this. When research is available, it is based almost exclusively in universities and is focused more frequently on international students than their domestic peers. What is clearly needed is more research on local students, multicultural classrooms and institutions, and even the broader community. In addition, well designed programme evaluations must be conducted. Only with research directed in these ways can we make confident conclusions about the impact of international students on their domestic peers, their host institutions and their surrounding communities.

The abundance of rhetorical discussion and large gaps in empirical investigations identified by this review indicate that there is the opportunity for innovative researchers to establish themselves as leaders in the field. Although New Zealand is small and has far fewer international students than the United States, Great Britain and Australia, the ratio of international students to domestic students, particularly in secondary schools, is relatively high, and the consequences of internationalisation are likely to make a proportionally greater impact on our local schools and communities. With the numbers of international students expected to increase, concerted efforts to foster impact and evaluation research in New Zealand would be timely. Indeed, New Zealand has an excellent opportunity to establish its international education programmes and policies as some of the first that clearly reflect evidence-based practice.

Research priorities

At the outset of this document, five key questions were identified for review:

  1. What is the nature of the interaction and relationship between international and domestic students?
  2. What is the nature of the interaction and relationships between international students and host communities?
  3. What is the comparative usage of institutional support facilities by international and domestic students?
  4. What is the impact of international students on teaching and learning?
  5. What are the conditions under which positive benefits of internationalisation are likely to be realised?

In order for these questions to be answered confidently, the following research should receive priority attention:

  • Research with domestic students, particularly at the secondary level
    This should include studies of attitudes, perceptions, and interactions with international students.
  • Research with teachers
    This can assist in establishing the extent (if any) of change that has occurred in educational process and content as a result of increasing international students. It may also consider the costs and benefits of these changes.
  • Research with home stay families
    This can provide information on not only problems, but also positive outcomes, of hosting international students.
  • Research within the community
    As with student-based research, this should include attitudes, perceptions and
  • Experimental lab or classroom-based studies
    These should include the experimental investigation of specific techniques that may enhance intercultural interactions, perceptions or relations. Studies of this type are generally small scaled and self-contained but designed to be generalised to the broader educational setting.
  • Evaluation studies of intervention strategies
    This refers to real life interventions with international and domestic students in their natural educational environment. If interventions are undertaken, it is important to examine their effectiveness empirically, rather than merely reporting selected observations.
  • Longitudinal studies
    These studies may relate to any of the above topics, but longitudinal studies are useful for establishing and monitoring trend data. They can also be used to examine if changes resulting from various interventions continue over time.

A note on interventions

Research has clearly shown that the presence of international students alone is insufficient to promote intercultural interactions and friendship formation or to induce significant changes in educational process and content. Intervention strategies are required to achieve these outcomes. Theory and research on intergroup interactions have demonstrated that contact per se does not always lead to improved relations. Rather, experimental social psychological research and field studies have identified specific factors that lead to the enhancement of intergroup perceptions and relations. These include equal status contact and cooperative activities directed towards a common, meaningful, and mutually beneficial goal. These findings should be borne in mind when designing strategic interventions. It has also been suggested that intervention strategies should encompass a wide range of student activities and those that permeate multiple facets of student life.

Laboratory based studies are particularly useful for examining single or specific aspects of intervention programmes and their effects. Consequently, this type of research provides a sound base for the design of intervention programmes.

When a whole programme has been designed and is ready for implementation, it is extremely important for the programme to be accompanied by an evaluation study. In most instances this should include pre- and post testing of programme participants as well as comparisons between students who have and have not participated in the programme. Only under these circumstances can researchers be confident that changes which occur have been caused by the intervention.

Dissemination and application of research findings

Finally, it is should be noted that research which has been conducted should be widely disseminated. A portion of the papers cited in this review, including some of the most useful sources, were unpublished manuscripts. It is expected that an even larger number of such papers are held by various schools, organisations or associations and are not easily accessible to educators, administrators or researchers on a wider basis. It is strongly recommended that institutions that are grappling with issues related to internationalisation document their experiences and share these resources with the New Zealand Ministry of Education, Education New Zealand and other relevant associations and organisations.

Export education, like most other industries, requires research and development, and investment in this is needed to foster positive growth in the sector. Basic research is necessary to guide programme and policy development as well as the design and implementation of professional training for administrators and educators.


The number of international students in New Zealand is increasing, and the economic benefits of export education are considerable. Less is known, however, about the social, educational and cultural implications of internationalisation. This review has considered five key questions related to the impact of international students on domestic students, educational institutions and the wider community. This has included changes in educational process and content, comparative usage of institutional support services by domestic and international students, the relationships between international students, domestic students and the wider community, and the conditions under which the benefits of internationalisation can be maximised. Although empirical evidence is patchy, it is clear that the desired outcomes of internationalisation do not occur spontaneously and that strategic interventions are required to maximise the benefits. Priority research areas have been identified to assist with this process. It is also recognised that with a growing international student population, New Zealand has an excellent opportunity to emerge as a leader in these research endeavours.

About the author

Colleen Ward is Professor and Head of the School of Psychology at Victoria University of Wellington. She has held previous teaching and research appointments at the University of the West Indies, Trinidad, Science University of Malaysia, National University of Singapore and the University of Canterbury.

She has previously held a research grant from the New Zealand Social Science Research Fund for the study of psychological and sociocultural adaptation during cross-cultural transitions. She is currently the co-recipient of a grant from Asia 2000 for an investigation of the psychological, social and educational adaptation of Asian students in New Zealand.

Professor Ward is a Fellow and Charter Member of the International Academy of Intercultural Research and past Secretary-General of the International Association for Cross-cultural Psychology. She is also a consulting editor for the International Journal of Intercultural Relations and the Journal of Cross-cultural Psychology.

Her major research interests are in the area of acculturation. She has authored over 80 journal articles and book chapters and is the co-author (with Stephen Bochner and Adrian Furnham) of the Psychology of Culture Shock (Routledge, 2001).


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