The Importance of Intercultural Competence in Higher Education and its Impact on Professional Life

Master's Thesis, 2017

115 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of Contents



Table of Figures

List of Tables

List of Abbreviations

1. Introduction

2. Thesis Insights

3. Globalization and its Effect
3.1 Globalization - a Term and its Definitions
3.2 Economic Globalization
3.3 Globalization within Cultural Contexts

4. Globalization in the Context of Higher Education in Germany

5. Intercultural Competence - a Basic Qualification in a Globalized World
5.1 Understanding the Concept of Culture
5.2 Interculturality vs. Multiculturality
5.3 Getting to know the Field of Intercultural Competence
5.3.1 Creating Cultural Synergies - Developing Intercultural Competence Fostering Intercultural Competence through Cultural Awareness
5.4 Intercultural Competence in Higher Education

6. Empirical Research
6.1 Aim of the Research and Research Approach
6.2 Research Design
6.3 Site Selection
6.4 Sample and Procedure
6.5 Analysis and Findings
6.5.1 Qualitative Content Analysis Results of the Qualitative Content Analysis
6.5.2 Quantitative Survey Analysis Results of the Quantitative Survey Analysis
6.5.3 Résumé

8. Reflection and Conclusion

9. Bibliography

10. Appendix
10.1 Appendix A: Student Questionnaire
10.2 Appendix B: Alumni Questionnaire
10.3 Appendix C: Interview with Mr. Stürenberg-Herrera, CBS Career Service
10.4 Appendix D: Interview with Mrs. Bochow, Head of the International Office .
10.4 Appendix E: Interview with Mrs. Scherer, Head of the Intercultural

Management Department and Head of the Foreign Languages Department

Table of Figures

Figure 1: Additional Qualifications of Graduates expected by Companies

Figure 2: Expected Soft Skills of Graduates from the Companies Perspective

Figure 3: Hofstede's Cultural Onion

Figure 4: Hall's Cultural Iceberg Model including the Triad of Culture

Figure 5: Three Dimensions of Culture

Figure 6: The development of an Interculture

Figure 7: Pyramid Model of Intercultural Competence

Figure 8: Process Model of Intercultural Competence

Figure 9: Learning Intercultural Competence through Kolb's Learning Cycle

Figure 10: Development Model of Intercultural Sensitivity

Figure 11: Diversity of the analyzed Student Group

Figure 12: Perception of Interculturalism

Figure 13: Perception about IC in the Context of the CBS

Figure 14: Ranking of Activities that promote IC

Figure 15: Ranking of CBS Activities with the most Effect to promote IC

List of Tables

Table 1: Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck's cultural dimensions

Table 2: Hofstede's cultural dimensions

Table 3: Hall's cultural dimensions

Table 4: Trompenaars' and Hampden-Turner's cultural dimensions

Table 5: GLOBE's cultural dimensions

Table 6: Category system for the evaluation of the interviews

List of Abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten


This thesis is written as a completion to the master’s degree in International Culture and Management at the Cologne Business School in Germany. With a specialization in Cross-cultural Management this degree is an interdisciplinary study program, focusing on intercultural differences involved in the entrepreneurial context, including issues of business administration and general management. By approaching higher education Institutions from the entrepreneurial angle with specific goals and functions, as well as external requirements, the subject of this thesis falls within the scope of this master’s field, because it does not only refer to intercultural aspects, but relates it also to the business world and involves future and current stakeholders of it.

The viewpoint, from which this master thesis is written, is according to the author, of central importance due to two reasons: In the first place, the author gives the decisive perspective by acting as a subject in the discourse on intercultural competence in higher education and its impact on the professional world, not only as a current actor in the landscape of higher education, but also as a future player in the business world, plus, as a migrant child with high personal experience in the field of intercultural interactions. In the second place, this work is stamped by the affiliation of a laboratory, which aims to promote a new business concept to impart cultural intelligence as a medium to solve global challenges. Against the background of these experiences the present work is to be understood. In spite of all this, it was waived to compose this work as an ethno- autobiography, due to reasons of time and the requirements of the academic writing style and format on which this thesis is based upon. Nevertheless, the above-mentioned perspective is intended as a motivation for the work, which is written with the help of relevant and adjuvant theories used objectively as possible.

To do so, several months of research on the topic were conducted and supported by several people. Not least by the advisor of this work and persons who shared anonymously, but also by name valuable knowledge and gave needful guidance to the completion of the research of this thesis. At this point, my greatest thanks to all of you.


On the basis of a growing international interconnection that has led to an increasing number of culturally diverse teams, study and working environments, as well as significant changes in the intercultural orientation aimed at adapting to the realities of a multicultural society (Friedman, 2007), the object of this thesis is to expound the significance of intercultural competence in the field of higher education, to illustrate challenges stemming from an intercultural cooperation and to cover feasible improvement opportunities of dealing with them.

In order to be interculturally competent, certain character traits emerge as very important. Also certain soft skills, especially the ones related to the social competence were identified as crucial (Fantini, 2006). Learning those is, as a matter of course, a life- long process, however influenced by individual experiences and the external environment. Higher Education Institution belong to the external environment that plays a significant role in developing, or, at least promoting ways for intercultural competence (Hahn, 2004). Recently, the role of higher education in this context has been explored in great detail.

Based upon a solid theoretical literature review and an empirical research in form of a case study, the research concluded that IC promoted at HEI has only a theoretical and initial impact on professional life. To paraphrase it differently, HEI has the function to lay the fundamental ground in learning to become intercultural competent and to develop this competence further onto a professional level. However, being intercultural competent means continuous learning, as each and every intercultural situation differs from another. Nevertheless, there are certain instruments that facilitate the development of intercultural competence. What does are and how one can make use of them is one of the topics dealt with in the present thesis.

1. Introduction

“ Tolerance, inter-cultural dialogue and respect for diversity are more essential than ever in a world where people are becoming more and more closely interconnected. ” Kofi Annan (UN, 2017, p. 1)1

It was the 21st of March 2004 when Kofi Annan, at that time Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), entered the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination with the above quoted message (UN, 2017). What he once said, 13 years ago in the course of this day, has become increasingly important in today’s world, as the interconnection of people is greater than ever before (Longhurst et al., 2016). While in the past this worldwide interconnection was a dream of the future, nowadays it encounters us in everyday life as a matter of course. Today, it is possible to stay in touch with plenty of people from almost all over the world, even at the same time. In addition, it is possible to travel to a handful places and even visit them virtually before arriving there. Also, buying products from other countries, while sitting at home on the sofa, is no longer a vision of the future, but thanks to technological advancement, already rather reality (Heath, 2016).

In literature, this interconnection in form of the above mentioned activities and others, is more often referred to as actions within the process of globalization (Wells, 2001). Indeed, this was not always the case. When analyzing the concept of globalization, especially earliest findings, often placed the subject in a purely economic context (Steger, 2013), by defining globalization as the interdependence of world economies resulting from a growing level of trade between nations (Shangquan, 2000). However, over the years, the definitions evolved. While some more recent definitions describe globalization in a more general résumé with room for interpretation, others use the term internationalization and globalization interchangeably or describe the concept as the regionalization of the world system (Scherrer, 2011).

Today, the concept of globalization is no longer narrowed down to its economic meaning, it also includes the above described activities and is, for instance by Manfred Steger, defined as “the myriad forms of connectivity and flows, linking the local and national to the global” on four dimensions, namely the economic, the political, the cultural and the ecological dimension (Steger, M.B., 2013, pp. 37, 60, 74, 87).

Nonetheless, there is in fact not one homogenous definition of the term globalization. Literature offers many definition approaches. However, similarities can be found, as all have in common, that interconnectivity and the human resources play a significant role within the process. The importance of the involved human resource in this context becomes particularly clear, when looking at the process of each dimensions of globalization. Irrespective of the dimension, the activity involved in the globalization process, and hence also its outcome, is, to a large extend, dependent on the individual, performing the process behind the scenes. When applying this for instance on cultural globalization, one can easily recognize that the individual is crucial when transmitting ideas, meanings and values to others and hence to stimulate the cultural globalization process. Equivalent is true for other dimensions (Cazal et. al., 1992).

Thomas L. Friedman, a New York Times Op-Ed columnist and specialist in foreign affairs, globalization and technology explored the context of globalization and the individual even further and described the influence of globalization on the individual in his book the World is Flat (2007) as follows:

“While the dynamic force in Globalization 1.0 was countries globalizing and the dynamic force in Globalization 2.0 was countries globalizing, the dynamic force in Globalization 3.0 - the force that gives it its unique character - is the newfound power for individuals to collaborate and compete globally. And the phenomenon that is enabling, empowering, and enjoining individuals and small groups to go global so easily and so seamlessly.” (p.10)

In other words, Globalization, which is currently driven by intense progress in the segment of information technology and prospects resulting from interconnectivity, caused a diminution of time and space, which offers mankind new opportunities, even beyond the activities just mentioned above (WTO, 2016). Today it is not only possible to work and exchange with other individuals all over the world, regardless of time and space between them, but it is also a common practice to encourage and even expect this exchange and mobility of individuals (Worldwatch Institute, 2017).

What at first sight seems to be loaded with various beneficial new possibilities also initiates new challenges in hindsight. With the increasing worldwide interconnectivity of individuals, cultures, economies, politics and ecological aspects, new demands came across. Increasing global competition on several levels, as well as the challenge to meet diverse wants and needs, the growing cultural adaptation, plus the potential for higher risk for inequality, are only some of the challenges that the globalization process introduces (Werhane, 2012).

From a company’s perspective this means that confronted with progressive globalization and growing international economic interrelations, corporate structures are more and more internationalized, for instance in forms of subsidiaries or similar, in order to remain competitive and to act as a global player (Podsiadlowski, 2002). Building on these international corporate structures, the need for global talents is rising and new challenges in the field of the human resource (HR) management occur. Today, labor markets are interrelated and have a huge impact on each other. So does for instance, an engineering graduate in India have an impact on the temporary staffing market in Silicon Valley, as nowadays it is possible and easier than in the past to apply and work in another country besides the domestic one. (Metcalf, 2017; Hahn, 2004). For the HR department, this opens the doors for a broader candidate pool all over the world. But at the same time this great range of application, as well as candidates, need proper management - not only with regard to their administrative handling, which can be relieved by adequate technologies, e.g. software programs, but also with regard to their personnel development (Metcalf, 2017).

When looking only at the recruiting process at first, while excluding the personnel development as a very important HR task, it has been identified that international and intercultural staff selection has gained incremental significance, as the manifold benefits of a personnel variety in the sense of Diversity Management (DiM) are increasingly recognized (Kühlmann, 2004; Podsiadlowski, 2002). Diversity Management can be executed in several forms, as the term diversity itself leaves room for numerous definitions. In general, diversity consists of all different factors that make up an individual - age, gender, culture, religion, social status etc. However, in many cases a classification of diversity takes place by distinguishing between the so-called primary dimension, that are immediately evident for fellow human beings, such as age, gender, disabilities and ethical origin, and the secondary dimension, which embodies characteristics not immediately visual and also changeable in the course of life, such as social status, political attitude and others (Schwarz-Wölzl, 2005).

As some diversity issues like sex, disabilities and political attitude are in the context of diversity management already regulated by legislation, other aspects that are not yet regulated or consist of various diversity aspects, gain more importance (Zoller, 2016). So is for instance cultural diversity being put into spotlight. As cultural diversity, also known as multiculturalism, makes use of the very complex term culture itself, and thus takes most of the characteristics that make up an individual into account, the proper handling of cultural diversity issues is not easy, as it will be demonstrated throughout this thesis (Gaudiano, Hunt, 2016). Regardless of its complexity, cultural diversity is, as it was to be expected, a natural result of globalization that causes a shift in the general working environment. Today, working in an international environment with diverse team members from different cultural backgrounds is routine. However, not only professional life is affected by it, also human beings’ private life finds more and more boundary points with cultural diversity, as it is increasing (Bozionels, Hoyland, 2014).

As a result of this increasing cultural diversity, the “key capability to work and live effectively with people from different cultures” (Hammer, M.R., 2012, p.18), also known under the umbrella term intercultural competence (IC), seems to be the most desirable capability especially for job candidates (Krajewski, 2011). When choosing the right candidate, the HR department places particular emphasis on this capability. In addition, the HR department also promotes IC through trainings for already hired employees within their personnel development course, in order to meet the qualification requirements of the rapid change based on globalization (Götz, 2000).

Confronted with these new required qualifications, as well as with the understanding that internationalization is the key to growth and in addition, the pressure on politics as well as the overall pressure to remain competitive within the globalization process, Higher Education (HE) has recognized their fundamental role within this process. As a knowledge generating organization, HE institutions in form of universities are to a significant extent involved in the transformation towards a society of knowledge (Hahn,2004). While analyzing the concept of a knowledge society, or better to say the growing importance of knowledge in almost all areas of modern society, it becomes quickly clear, that the importance for HE to play a key role within this concept, is not only on the grounds of a current trend, but also a strategic move, constructed on the example of influential institutions like the European Union (EU) and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Those institutions are of the opinion that education plays a key role for the knowledge society, as countries in which larger proportions of young people start and complete a higher education are better prepared to deal with the challenges of a knowledge society (Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung [German Federal Agency for Political Education] BPB, 2017).

According to this trend towards a knowledge society and the growing internationalization, transnational politics introduced a number of programs for the promotion of international education, known under the Erasmus, Socrates - or similar programs, to facilitate HE’s educational mission (Teichler, 2007). Here the question arises, what exactly is todays’ HE educational mission? In literature, several authors and institutions have discussed the answer to this question. Even though the wording of the answers differs, the core statement remains largely similar. The educational mission is to train graduates for an international labor market (Erichsen, 1996; Leszczensky, Barthelmes, 2011) and to qualify the young people not only for employment, but also to equip themselves to assume global citizenship (German Rectors’ Conference, 2012).

Global citizenship is recognized as a certain way of life, in which the world is understood as a complex web of connection with several interdependency scenarios and the awareness that every human beings’ decision does have an impact. This kind of lifestyle is primarily addressed to the ethics of mankind, in which awareness of other cultures, such as the contribution and work towards community improvement and sustainability, are the main focus (Oxfam, 2017). Hannah Arendt summarizes this as an ethic of “care for the world” (1968, p.116). In addition, Oxfam defines the qualifications of a global citizen as “someone who is aware of the wider world and has a sense of their own role as a world citizen, respects and values diversity, is passionately committed to social justice, participates in the community at a range of levels (local to global), works with others to make the world a more sustainable place and takes responsibility for their actions” (Oxfam, 2017, p.5). Deakin University enlarges this statement by adding characteristics and skills that typify a global citizen. These include, among others, good communication skills, social engagement and intercultural awareness. While communication skills and social engagement are easier to learn, intercultural awareness is difficult to grasp, as it deals with several other cross-linked skills, e.g. communication skills (Deakin University, 2017). However, the importance of it has already been stated on the previous pages and is appropriately summarized by the former UN secretary- general Ban Ki-moon on International Youth Day in 2010, when he expressed the following: “In an interconnected world, young people must learn skills - listening, empathy - that encourage dialogue across cultures” (UN, 2010). And this is exactly what interculturality is all about.

Interculturality is understood as the interaction, also dialogue, of people from different cultural backgrounds to interact effectively with another culture. To do so one’s own cultural awareness is particularly important to develop a more global sense of culture. This process is complex and time-consuming, as it includes understanding diversity and one’s own place in the world as social change agents, as well as empathy and tolerance (Deakin University, 2017). In learning to develop those skills required as a global citizen, HE institutions provide an indispensable part. Promoted by state or institution programs, such as Erasmus, nowadays almost all HE institutions offer specific, transnational activities, such as international student mobility programs, international cooperative research projects, international teaching staff and the establishment of culture exploring degree programs with international orientation (Teichler, 2007). As these activities facilitate the learning process of IC, because students are forced to study and work with others of diverse cultural backgrounds, the offers for those activities are constantly increasing. Especially the student mobility programs are very popular in Germany and do not only provide intercultural learning for those absolving it, but also for domestic students, as they work with foreign exchange students (Dehmel, A., Li, Y., Sloane, F.E., 2011). But is it only the mobility program that promotes IC in HE, or are there other key activities or assignments that are introduced in order to ensure that future graduates meet the required qualifications for job entry?

After recognizing the importance of IC, especially with regard to future job positions, the author of this work is, as a future graduate of an international study program in international culture and management at an international HE institution in Cologne, personally interested in answering this question by analyzing the importance of IC in HE and its impact on professional life. However, this should not only serve the author individually or fellow students, but may also be beneficial to HE institutions and recruiting companies, as the research conducted might detect key experience that may lead to the required IC. Given the limited time frame, scarce resources and the authors personal bond to this topic, the scale of the research question introduced above is diminished by focusing only on the HE institution the author is attending - namely the Cologne Business School (CBS). Thus, the final research question to be answer throughout this thesis is:

What does CBS do to promote intercultural competence and is based on this any traceable impact for future job positions perceived by former CBS students?

To detect the answer to this question in an adequate way and to point out the floating motivation behind it, the following Chapter will briefly introduce in a summarized way the basic thesis insights including the goals of this master thesis, its overall structure and the initial research approach behind it.

2. Thesis Insights

Chapter one already offered a broad overview over the research reported in this thesis. In order to understand the methodological decisions taken and to access the related content of the topic, this chapter aims to reflect the whole research process in a summarized way, as well as to offer a structural overview.

As already mentioned in chapter one, the illustrated necessity and importance of IC is the driving force of this thesis. The goal is not only to address critically and objectively the issue of IC in HE, but further to apply the obtained knowledge on a case study and to identify potential improvement possibilities. To do so, the research for the purpose of this thesis begun, like any research, with a broad idea of the question that should be answered (Williamson, 2002). Thus, initially the very first research question (RQ) was:

What does HE do to provide their students with the required qualification of intercultural competence and what advantages or disadvantages does this offer for future work places?

Unsurprisingly, this question was, like most RQ, framed upon a solid literature review and a certain, adjuvant problem formulation (Dawidowicz, 2010). However, when analyzing this RQ more in-depth, opportunities, limitations and challenges have been identified. This RQ deals roughly with three areas of study. Namely, the area of HE, the topic of IC and the field around professional life and workplaces. By splitting those areas of study into related topics, a variety of interlinked sub-topics and keywords can be identified. Those keywords range from the topic of culture and communication with regard to intercultural competences, to workplace and HE related topics, of for instance, international Human Resource Management (HRM), learning styles and others. By using synonyms or the so-called Boolean operators (and, or, and not), the primary keyword-list can easily be extended, as those operators connect keywords under each other, so that the number of keywords - and issues increases (Eriksson, Kovalainen, 2015). This expanded keyword-list including related sub-topics, illustrate not only the complexity of the RQ, but on the other hand it also helps finding appropriate and related literature. Yet, at this stage of the research, the keyword-list was not the decisive factor in finding literature, but rather to recognize the scope of the RQ as too wide for the purpose of this thesis. Thus, the initial RQ needed modification in form of a more indepth focus. After evaluating several focus possibilities and eventually also due to the limited timeframe and scared resources, the decision of a new RQ has been made. Hence, the goal of this work is to answer the following, new RQ:

What does the Cologne Business School (CBS), as an example of a higher education institution (HEI), execute to promote intercultural competence and is based on this any traceable impact for future job positions perceived by former CBS students and/or even ways to improve the ways in which CBS promotes IC?

To respond to this question in a significant manner, the explanatory research strategy with different types of information sources has been identified. Those information sources range from secondary data, obtained through databases like EBSCO and Google Scholar, over to data from local libraries of the University of Cologne and the CBS, plus, data collected from scientific journals and websites. Besides secondary data, primary data in form of interviews and survey results should be used as the core to answer the RQ. Regardless of whether secondary or primary data is used, both methods can be carried out bilingual - in English or in German language.

However, to assess secondary data in a proper way, it is crucial to keep in mind that literature review can be categorized in three categories: the simple literature review offering a general overview of a certain topic, the academic literature review specifying the knowledge with purely academic sources, and constructed on this, the applied literature review reinforcing the academic one by finding facts, that support decision making or planning processes. Those supporting facts can be of quantitative or qualitative nature. Both methods differ in the way they asses the relevant information. While the quantitative approach generates numerical data to obtain information, the qualitative approach obtains information through exploratory research, to analyze and understand opinions. (Dawidowciz, 2010). Furthermore, it can take place in a narrative, a systematic or a combined/integrated form. A narrative literature review can be seen as an analytic summary of a wide range of issues concerned with a certain topic. Whereas in contrast to this, the systematic literature review analyzes and evaluates a specific RQ of a topic. The integrated or combined literature review makes use of both approaches, narrative and systematic, combining empirical and theoretical literatures, based on quantitative and qualitative methodologies to ensure a broad and comprehensive understanding of the topic (Onwuegbuzie, Freis, 2016). The approach followed in this thesis, is the integrated academic literature review, as the represented work is part of a scientific study, in which diverse literature, theoretical and empirical are used.

In agreement with the objectives of this thesis and the just introduced work frame, the represented work can, in subsequent to this chapter, be divided into two main parts, a theoretical and an empirical part, as well as content specific, in five chapters. While the approaches introduced above only explore the methods used for the first parts of the thesis, further in-depth explanations on the research approaches during the second part of the present work should be disregarded at this point and will be explained in more detail in the separate section dealing with it.

Independently, in order to answer the RQ it seems indispensable to start the next chapter by referring to the general effects of globalization, especially culturally considered, in order to point out the intercultural environment, in which HEI are in. Especially the topic of diversity management should be pointed out. This chapter aims at highlighting the interdependence between IC and socio-economic developments, to illustrate the need for IC in HE. Resultant, the second chapter integrates HE in the globalization process. To do so, the topic of HE is first of all introduced in a general way, with its goals and forms, and then in the second stage its development in the globalization process. Due to the fact that HE institutions are the medium of placing competence and that IC emerge as the most desired competence in a globalized word, consequentially resultant, the third chapter deals with the core of the topic, namely the understanding of IC. In this respect, a definition of culture as the driving component of IC emerges as necessary. As nuderstanding the concept of culture as a pre-condition for IC is a complex process, the author will limit the exploration of this topic to popular theory that assess culture by explaining cultural differences, as those do in fact have a major impact on the acquisition of IC. After this, the concept of IC itself is outlined in-detail.

Furthermore, the process of developing this competence, as well as ways to train and promote it are presented. Finally, the acquired knowledge is backspaced to the context of HE by analyzing the importance and the function of HE with regard to IC.

Until there, the literature review mentioned above provides the theoretical foundation for the thereupon following chapter, which deals with the practical part of this study. The empirical research based on an exemplar HE institution is exposed in great detail in chapter four. Evolving a theory provides the aim of this investigation. After introducing the research design and methodological procedure, the interview setting and sample are briefly discussed. Afterwards, the next subchapters focus on representing the survey and interview results, starting with a concise overview about the main data of the respondents, as well as their study patterns. After regarding the general awareness of the topic, studying techniques, or better to say, ways to promote IC in HE are evaluated. After analyzing the results of this investigation, conclusions from the most important findings are drawn. Eventually, the next section introduces even improvement possibilities based on the study results. However, in a final step, possible limitations of this empirical research, as well as recommendations for future research are addressed.

As the research approach of this thesis already suggests, the thesis is based on an abstractive conclusion procedure, which concludes generally valid statements from observed individual cases, thus where the study evolves the theory. In literature this approach is known under the inductive research approach (Saunders et al., 2012).

With the help of this thesis insights, meaningful knowledge for the further procedure has been obtained and it is possible to start dealing with topic related content.

3. Globalization and its Effect

Globalization is not only a catchword of the past, but also in the present. According to Beck (1997) the term globalization itself is “certainly the most used and abused word of the last, but also of the coming years” (p. 42). In addition, the concept of globalization is also controversialy discussed. Not only due to the fact that although the term is commonly used, uncertainty about its meaning, historical background, as well as its implications, governs literature (Scherrer, 2011). However, to understand the context of HE in globalization, the following sub-chapters summarize in a nutshell the most important issues with regard to the term and the process behind it.

3.1 Globalization - a Term and its Definitions

In contrast to many expectations, globalization is by no means a phenomenon of the 90s, but more a historically far-reaching process. The assumption that globalization is a phenomenon of modern times is based on its multiple usage and increasing popularity and the dynamic of the term nowadays (Osterhammel, Petersson, 2003). However, it is challenging to track how old globalization actually is, as ist age depends primarily on the general definition applied. Research offers very diverse explanation attempts. While some construe globalization as a phenomenon, whose history begun at the end of World War II, with the establishment of global institutions like the UN and the increase in world trade or densified communication relations. A number of other researchers, on the other hand, already consider human migration movements tens thousands of years ago as the core of increasing global interactions (Buchner, 2017). By name the term globalization was for the first time mentioned in 1961, in an English-language lexicon (Duthel, 2013).

Nonetheless, until now it is difficult to find a universal definition of the concept of globalization, as it depends strongly on the observers’ point of view. So describes globalization for some researchers a transformational processes in many areas, for instance in economics, politics, culture and others. While others prefer to describe the concept with terms like internationalization or the regionalization of the World systems.

However, some well-established definition proposals that define globalization as an increasing international integration and consolidation of economic processes, the worldwide dissemination and standardization, as well as the formation of a global civil society, in which the relevance of proximity and distance are reduced, are widely accepted and do only differ in the evaluation of its impact and its dimension (Niederberger, 2011; Scherrer, 2011). It can certainly be said that the concept of globalization has both, positive and negative consequences and thus also very diverse protagonists and research approaches (Maringe, Foskett, 2010).

For the purpose of this thesis not all dimensions of the concept of globalization are relevant. Thus, the following sub-chapters will relate the concept to economic and cultural aspects, as personally assessed, those are of the most influential dimensions with regard to HE. While this kind of trading was very difficult at that time, with time and the technological progress it became easier and gained on speed.

3.2 Economic Globalization

Economic globalization refers to the increasing interdependence of national economies, resulting in a greater mobility of goods, services, capital, technology and the people in the world economy (Duncan, 2010). From this point of view, the term globalization derives, as already mentioned in the previous chapter, from the development of the very first international economic activities in form of trade. Trade between regions and countries took place already in the Middle Ages. A number of historical events in the world development, especially in the 20th century, contributed to a large extend in speeding up and changing this development. This has been driven to the point, when cross-border trade has grown faster than economic activity within most countries (Niederberger, 2011). However, today international trade and thus the recent economy encompasses much more and various areas of activities than those of earlier ages. These include for instance the traditional trade of goods and services, but also complex logistic decisions, capital investments, supply of labor and knowledge. In addition, not only the area differs, but also its size and impact on the involved nations (Scherrer, 2011).

For companies and institutions, this development does not only open up new opportunities, but it also initiates therewith associated challenges, like the competitive pressure and fast moving requirements to be met, due to the present market dynamic. A demonstrative case example for this situation is certainly the significant international organization of companies and institutions. While on the one hand companies and institution profit from the transnational interdependence, as they can create global value chains and thus potentially lower costs, on the other hand this opportunity causes the challenge of handling conflict of interest proper and to prepare and train the employees in an adequate way, so that they are able to deal with the new international situation. The accurate employee training, as well as selection, has gained major importance. Not only because it has a direct impact on the profit and should bring a worthwhile return on investment, but also due to the growing importance of the so-called human capital, as talent has become the new stakeholder of modern enterprise. Unlike in the past, companies and institutions do no longer define themselves over their facilities, but rather with their employees’ talent (Park, 2017).

This whole economic transformation does not only result in a change in the companies or institutions scope of action, but also in its corporate culture, that has to be complied with it in order to ensure its success. Thereby, the cultural impact on international management is addressed, which leads to the second significant aspect of globalization, namely the cultural side of it, which will be briefly introduced in the following chapter.

3.3 Globalization within Cultural Contexts

To understand the cultural side of globalization and which processes contributes to the development of intercultural interdependencies and what those mean for mankind, it is primarily important to understand roughly the term culture itself. The term and concept of culture has always been researched in great detail. However, especially after the market internationalization and the increasing number of confrontations between nations and world residents, the concept gathered growing attention (Hofstede et al., 2010). Literature offers diverse, well-known definition approaches and theories, such as those of Hall, Hofstede, Trompenaar and others, to explain the complex phenomenon of culture. While chapter five aims to expound those approaches in-depth, the following lines focus on summarizing to facilitate the understanding of cultural globalization.

Centralized, the term culture is understood as a variety of phenomenona, like communication, ways of eating, habits of living, attitudes, but also literature, museums, journals and educational systems are parts of culture. Especially attitudes, habits, values and beliefs have been developed by people with similar thoughts, particularly in order to adapt to geographic and climatic conditions and to survive. Those similar thoughts can be understood as different cultural layers that distinguish one group of culture from another and can vary greatly (Podsiadlowski, 2002).

Christel Kumbruck and Wibke Derboven (2016, p.5) describe culture in a summarized way as “a program for certain patterns (in the thinking process, in their perception, in their feeling and acting, such as practices like problem solving and so on) shared by several people, and simultaneously an instrument to express and establish differences with others.” Hence, culture is a homogenous entity that is not constitutional, but a product of social process and like economic globalization, in steady alteration and a historical far-reaching century process (Scherrer, 2011).

Before dipping into the definition of cultural globalization it broadens the knowledge to know that the age, or better to say, the starting date stamping of cultural globalization is similar to the economic globalization hard to fix and depending on the observer (Craine, 2011). Preyer (2007) for instance, relates historically considered, the cultural evolution of the world with the distribution of Western values, e.g. in the discovery of America.

Combing the just obtained knowledge with the definition of globalization, the decision suggests that cultural globalization is the expansion and intensification of the program for certain patterns, like Kumbruck and Derboven introduced it. However, while some researchers prove this assumption, by defining cultural globalization as a process “by which experiences of everyday life, as influenced by the diffusion of commodities and ideas, reflects a standardization of cultural expressions around the world” (Watson, 2017, p. 1), others differentiated cultural globalization into three models that represent rather conditions, than processes. Those models are the cultural homogenization, the cultural heterogenization and the cultural glocalization (Liu, 2012). However, as the present thesis is, according to the authors point of view, in agreement with Kumbrucks and Derbovens (2017) perspective, where cultural globalization does not represent a condition, but rather a process, those three models of culture are not explained further. For detailed information please refer to Liu, Kinberg, Kumaravadivelu in the Chapter 9.

Cultural globalization, perceived as a process by which values, ideas and in general culture is disseminated across borders through various means, encounters every human. For instance, when someone finds abroad the same or at least similar things like at their home town. Fast food restaurants like McDonalds, certain brands like Adidas, or even online shops like Amazon, and of course several more similar things across the globe, are only a few examples that can be mentioned in this context. Those adaptations are driven by a dominant culture and do not only take place with regard to their overall appearance and immediate visible similarities, but also to a great portion underneath things that can directly be seen. For instance, fast food chains all over the world do not only offer the same products, visual nature and concepts, but transmit also eating habits of a certain culture that once started it (Cheprasov, 2017). In literature, this process of identifying different cultural layers by differentiating between elements that can easily be noticed, such as the appearance, and those elements which are not as obvious as this, for instance the habits behind it, is explained by Sackmann as the cultural iceberg (Sackmann, 2006; Scherrer, 2011). Deeper knowledge about this model is explained in chapter five. However currently, the above known is sufficient.

Summarized, cultural globalization, represented in cultural integration over borders, is multiculturalism on many areas: communication, habits, values, education and so on. Homogeneity is replaced by diversity in many areas of life. Thus, the diversity of population and interpersonal relations increase (Scherrer, 2011).

What impact this has, in particular on HE institutions in Germany, is the theme of the following chapter. Chapter four aims to detect how globalization, especially cultural globalization, affected HE forms and targets, as well as in the final step to identify the demand for IC in this context.

4. Globalization in the Context of Higher Education in Germany

The impact of globalization on HE has been increasingly discussed from several educators and researchers during the last decades (Dodds, 2008). However, the present chapter does not refer to the impact of globalization on HE worldwide, but focusses on the impact of it in Germany. To assess this, the following lines offer a general overview of the German HE system and analyze the development of it related to globalization and also corners its relation to cultural aspects.

In Germany it is possible to study almost everything. In fact, one can choose among almost 18,000 different courses, from which 1,800 are international programs, partly conducted in English. This wide range of diversity can also be found in the number and types of academic institutions. The German HE system differentiates between state and state-accredited HE institutions (HEI), which are usually divided in forms like universities, universities of applied sciences, colleges of art and conservatories. All of them differ with regard to the way in which they transmit knowledge and party with regard to the field of study. At this juncture, there are about 400 state-accredited HEI. Regardless of their type, the number of students visiting any of those has constantly increased over the last ten years, so that it counted with 2,803,916 in the winter semester 2016/2017. Unlike in the past, the degree options offered by German HEI have been to a large extent unified by the so-called Bologna process. So that nowadays one can do a bachelor’s and master’s degree, gain a doctorate or in specific subjects gain another degree, for instance to become a lawyer, the so-called Staatsexamen. (German Rectors’ Conference, 2017; German Academic Exchange Service - DAAD, 2017; Federal Office of Statistics, 2017). All qualification possibilities offered by the German HE system possess the function to transmit knowledge for employability. Recently, not least as a result of globalization, this educational mission includes not only subject related knowledge, but also the transmission of soft skills, that are required from a global citizen. Even though the concept of global citizenship has already been explained in Chapter 1, skills in order to be one, are, in the sense of a brief recap, the following: flexibility, awareness for the environment in each sense (nature, human beings, culture, et. al.) proactivity to contribute and have an impact, openness to value and respect diversity at each level, as well as responsibility to contribute to a more sustainable world, and finally being ethical. (Teichler, 2007; Leszczensky, Barthelmes, 2011; German Rectors’ Conference, 2012) From the authors’ view, most of these skills can be incorporated within the education system. For instance: Openness, awareness, as well as responsibility through tasks, where collaboration is the key to success. In addition, proactivity and flexibility boosted through challenging tasks that strengthen the ability to become a problem solver by adapting flexible to changing requirements. However, as these are only personal opinions, the following lines will focus again on verifiable facts.

One fact is that German HEI need to pass on employability. In this sense, employability refers to “the possession by an individual of the qualities and competencies required to meet the changing needs of employers” (Confederation of British Industry, 1991, p.1) As those employers needs vary temporal, locally and with regards to the occupation itself, employability depends to a large extent on the work environment. In the context of HE, this means that skills fostering employability differ also with regards to the specific field of study. However, the Staufenbiel Institute offers a centralized overview across all fields of studies. Besides favored degrees and study-related qualification criteria, the annual study “JobTrends Germany” of 2016 identified, as demonstrated in Figure 1 and 2, several additional qualifications and soft skills, as requirements of companies to university graduates (Staufenbiel Institute, 2017).

Figure 1: Additional Qualifications of Graduates expected by Companies

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: Own Illustration based on Staufenbiel Institute (2017, p. 27)

Figure 2: Expected Soft Skills of Graduates from the Companies Perspective

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Source: Own Illustration based on Staufenbiel Institute (2017, p. 34)

However, as the companies’ requirements are affected by overall economic needs that have to be met in order to remain competitive, the criteria described above expected from graduates to enter the labor market also vary according to the economic needs. As learned throughout Chapter 3, Globalization consolidates economic processes and forms a global civil society (Niederberger, 2011; Scherrer, 2011). Resultant, it is nearby to accept the conclusion of the German Rectors’ Conference (2012) arguing that the consequences of the economic, political and communicative development through globalization comprises in the HE system through: high competition beyond national borders, the phenomena of high cultural diversity by education migrants and shifting educational expectations of users in the sense of a marketable education, above referred to as employability (German Rectors’ Conference, 2012).

To meet those requirements, especially concerning employability by preparing their graduates properly and to contribute actively towards defining standards and benchmarks within the global academic system, the German Rectors’ Conference (2012) identified that HE needs to respond to the consequences of globalization in all of their activities - teaching, learning and research, by integrating internationalization, as a result of globalization. To do so, HE institutions need to develop a comprehensive internationalization strategy, which is implemented consistently in all areas of the institution, covering not only teaching, learning and research processes, but also service and administrative structures, to engage within intercultural contexts (German Rectors’ Conference, 2012). Over the last years German education policies and effort have been designed to create, together with the European Union, a framework which allows HE institutions to address the required needs of the knowledge society (Hahn, 2004). From those efforts, the gradual alteration from the so-called diploma to a uniform degree system with bachelors’ and masters’ and the so-called mobility fostering programs such as the Socrates/Erasmus program or others derived. (German Rectors’ Conference, 1996, 2010, 2012; Teichler, 2007; Hahn, 2004).

Currently the status quo of the German HE system is not only the one of a well- established and worldwide recognized system, due to its diversity, first-class education and low tuition fee policy, but also a system in which its institutions are like no other institution internationally networked and fused by consequences of globalization. This is not least demonstrated by the high amount of international students in Germany, which increased constantly over the last years and count, according to the DAAD, with 12% of all students in Germany to come from abroad years (DAAD, 2017).

This development does not only touch upon meeting the requirements of the labor market, but also on the goal of HE. Nonetheless, it is crucial to recognize that promoting intercultural exchange and internationalization in the field of HE also establishes new challenges that HE has to cope with. Namely to ensure IC of the students, so that the intercultural experience is really valuable for employability. As to say it with Charles Macleod words: “The value of a student’s international experience goes beyond purely the acquisition of language - it lies in the ability to see business and personal issues from other than your own cultural perspective” (Archer, Davison, 2008). What Macleod refers to can be briefly summarized as the key competence of being intercultural competent and is not only necessary for international experience, but also for each intercultural interaction. To gain a deep understanding of what is meant by this statement, the following chapter will introduce in-depth the wide scope of IC as a basic qualification in a globalized world, in order to ultimately understand it in conjunction with HE.

5. Intercultural Competence - a Basic Qualification in a Globalized World

As already represented in the last few chapters, especially in chapter four, the recent social development that intensifies the global cooperation of different cultures, led to an increase in the importance of intercultural competence as a required basic qualification.

Already within a culture, or to express it more formal, within intracultural contexts, certain basic skills and competencies are required for a constructive interpersonal cooperation in form of communication, conflict regulation and everyday living together. When applying this further to the intercultural contexts, in which more than one culture is interconnected with each other, one can assume that even greater complexity impede the cooperation, assuming that participants are confronted with multiple differences. Since common standard behavioral codes and qualification tend to be insufficient to deal with those various differences, other interculturally relevant and effective skills and competencies are necessary. In literature, but also in everyday language, those skills are referred to as IC (Heidari, 2005).

At the end of the last decade, in particular in the context of debates on globalization, internationalization and multiculturalism, IC has undoubtedly not only become more and more relevant, but also a key competency. As identified throughout the second and third chapter, changed structures in everyday life, especially in HE, demand specific attitudes and abilities for a successful cooperation between diverse cultures and to prepare university graduates for the requirements of the labor market. But, just because this thesis focusses more on the importance of intercultural competency for students and graduates, it does not mean that others are not affected by it in the same way. In contrast, IC is in the increasingly networked and multicultural world eventually a superficial qualification, belonging to the so-called soft-skills. Those are, independent of specific positions or education, needed by everyone - ranging from the senior top manager to the child in the kindergarten -to interact successfully with members of other cultures. However, the importance of this qualification does certainly increase with rising age and the environment one is active in. A very broad offer of study paths and continuing education possibilities points out the widespread interest and high value of the key qualification of IC (Gymnich, Erll, 2007).

Although many educational measures and trainings for intercultural learning and promotion have been initiated, developed and supported by a numerous of related publications and learning materials, with the basic idea of promoting and facilitating the cooperation of people from diverse cultural backgrounds, the desired results, which actually facilitate, promote and improve intercultural interactions, are not always achieved. Instead, prejudices are, more often due to of lack in tolerance, strengthened rather than dismantled, which makes intercultural interaction even more complex (Bolten, 2007). One reason for this may certainly be found in the danger of cultural stereotyping. Although cultural stereotyping is a very helpful tool to understand the complexity of different cultures, as it reduces it to a simple set of ideas and beliefs about a certain culture, it also promotes the stereotyped thinking that differentiates the group one personally belongs to, the so-called in-group, from the out-group, which represents the group to which the others belong. Until here stereotyping does not directly represent a problem, or better to say, a challenge. The challenge comes along with the self- reinforcing potential of stereotyping. Due to this potential, stereotyping tends to strengthen the label thinking, when someone from another culture conforms to the stereotype image, whereas when someone contradicts this, it is dismissed as an exception, rather than modifying the image. Handling this in an appropriate way is the duty of every humans’ emotional intelligence (EI). Explaining EI in-depth is for the purpose of this thesis too broad and psychological, thus only a rephrased definition by Wharam should ensure a basic understanding of the term. Wharam (2009) rephrases the definition of EI as “the potential to be aware of and use one’s own emotions in communication with oneself and others and to manage and motive oneself and others through understand emotions” (Wharam, 2009, p.11). Making use of one own EI allows to assess stereotyping as a help, rather than as a hindrance, by being aware of one’s own mind processes and to access it on a descriptive and individual way, rather than in a judgmental and group related manner. The concept of the so-called cultural glasses might be helpful in this context. The notion behind cultural glasses is to facilitate the assessment of diverse mental programs, known as culture, by putting the personal cultural glasses on and then rethink a certain situation with another cultural glass on and to identify how this would look like from another perspective (Hopkins, 2009). Besides the reason and potential solution method for intercultural interaction problems just introduced, another reason may be that even though education policy reacted to the changing environments and requirements, HE institutions are still facing the challenge to implement the intercultural subject even more in their curriculum. Generally, IC can only by acquired and developed through one’s own initiative. However, its promotion should still be the assignment of HE. Yet, the understanding of such as an educational objective and its realization is not explicitly defined (Bolten, 2007).

To evaluate this statement and to assess the performance of HE on a case study, as well as to understand the concept of IC in its complete meaning, a targeted examination of IC requires a comprehension of the individual components of the term. Thus, the aim of the following chapters is to analyze and discuss explicitly IC components such as the concept of culture itself, general knowledge of multiculturalism, respectively interculturalism and ultimately related back to the concept of IC itself, by critically defining it and depict ways to promote is, as well as challenges resulting from it.

5.1 Understanding the Concept of Culture

Chapter three already addressed briefly the topic of culture. Thereby it has been detected that the phenomenon of culture is rather difficult to grasp and definition attempts vary greatly and are, to a large extent, also dependent on the relative research interest behind it. Thus, it is crucial to recognize that the following reflection of the concept of culture is very general and will then be assessed in a topic-specific manner. Literature review offers numerous research results and definitions attempts with regard to the concept of culture. However, the lack of convergence across these models, also referred to as the so-called cultural theory jungle, makes it difficult to handle the topic. Nonetheless, when focusing on models of explaining national culture, at present, at least five models are widely known, accepted and used. Those are the models introduced by Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck, Hofstede, Hall, Trompenaars as well as House with his GLOBE associates. Although some similarities across the models have been identified, those convergences have been perceived as very limited, as each model foregrounds different aspects of predictable behavioral schemes of a certain group of people, such as beliefs, norms and values of this group (Nardon, Steers, 2009). To gain a better understanding of what is meant by that, those models are briefly summarized hereafter.

Starting with one of the earliest models of culture and the principal foundation for further models, the cultural anthropologists Florence Kluckhohn and Fred Strodtbeck introduced their model of culture in 1961. Based upon the initial research by Clyde Kuckhohn (1951), which described culture as shared biological traits and characteristics, manifested in a way of thinking, acting and feeling, adapted from traditional ideas and values, and communicated over symbols. Florence Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck developed this basic idea further, by putting this principle into action. They agreed with the initial research by C. Kuckhohn in the sense that they shared the belief that attitudes, which define culture, are based on, or better, are adapted from some, stable values that people hold. Thus, their introduced theory of culture identified value orientation as the driving force. As a result, the theory is also known as the Values Orientation Theory (Kluckhohn, Strodtbeck, 1961). It proposes that there are a limited number of common and universal problems to be answered by all human societies and that the solutions available for those universal problems are not only limited in number, but also commonly known and value-based. They agreed on five universal problems. By developing alternate solutions to those, as well as culture-specific measures of each, Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck identified that differences between cultures can be detected by their preferences towards each solution, based upon values that rush those preferences. Table 1 presents an overview of Kluckhohn and Strodbeck’s cultural dimensions by showing the five basic questions respectively problems to be solved and the value orientation reflected in their solutions.


1 Former Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN, 2017)

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The Importance of Intercultural Competence in Higher Education and its Impact on Professional Life
Cologne Business School Köln
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Intercultural Competence, Hofstede, Culture, Management, Professional Life, Globalization, Interculturality, Multicultuarlity, Culturel Synergies, Cultural Awareness, Empirical Research, Higher Education, Higher Education in Germany, Concept of Culture, Hall, Triad of Culture, Cultural Iceberg, Kolb's Learning Cycle, GLOBE, Trompenaar's and Hampden-Turner's cultural dimensions, Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck's cultural dimensions, Cultural dimensions
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Juliane Couto (Author), 2017, The Importance of Intercultural Competence in Higher Education and its Impact on Professional Life, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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