With the growth of Transnational Education (TNE), increasing numbers of staff are travelling, or based overseas, to deliver teaching or support teaching activities. When expanding internationally, policy and compliance matters tend to dominate strategic thinking. It is common to overlook the 'human' aspects of employment. There is great value in supporting employees delivering TNE in a more holistic manner as individuals with varying lifestyles, needs, emotions and commitments, as these could impact on their TNE experience and, in turn, their contribution to the institution.
The health and safety of an employee is, of course, the university's responsibility and much care is normally taken to ensure there is adequate travel insurance, emergency cover and if done well, risk assessment of the host location. But how much is done to support the individual's psychological well-being? Working overseas could lead to feelings of isolation, cause additional strain on relationships and create pressure to deliver in an alien environment with little access to social support or sense of community. Some may provide cultural awareness training, but the pressure tends to be on the individual to adapt to the new environment. There is much that can be done pro-actively to mitigate this, such as involving family members in conversations at the planning stage and ensuring employee assistance programmes are extended internationally. However, more thinking is needed in this area to identify key considerations and potential solutions.
The university sector has a very positive track record for recording, reviewing and promoting equality and diversity. Although not always perfect, there is a lot of good practice that exceeds that of other sectors. However, there are gaps in extending this good practice to overseas working. Balancing business needs with the 'duty of care' towards individuals is more challenging where there is no control over the cultural environment of the host location. For example how do you handle a situation where the host location does not tolerate the sexuality of your employee? How do you balance that against equality of opportunity for delivering TNE?
An informed-choice model appears to be the way forward, but more thought is required in the information and support offered to employees and key decision-makers in such circumstances. Last November, the Equality Challenge Unit and HEGlobal met with the Staff Working Abroad Group that I chair to discuss these topics. The outcome was more questions than answers, and a resolution from all three of our networks to take the discussion forward.
More than that, it became even clearer that these themes go beyond our networks in isolation. 'Well-being and safety' and 'Equality & Diversity" are not HR matters alone, nor E&D matters alone, nor TNE management alone; they are themes which need to be considered and addressed at strategic levels in order for TNE staffing to truly be successful. Several leading voices have echoed this, including Professor Janet Beer, Vice Chancellor of Liverpool University. And so we are convening a series of roundtables, starting in Liverpool on Tuesday 24 January 2017, to open up dialogue about the challenges, learn from others' experience, and identify future resources that might be useful in this area. More detail and registration for the roundtables is here. We would be delighted if you would join us and shape the next steps in this journey.