Doctoral studies

Culturally diverse classrooms promote teaching and learning experiences in higher education

The benefits of international learning environments are clear in higher education institutes - it will create a more diverse knowledge base.

Muhammed Abdulai

PhD candidate at Tallinn University School of Governance, Law and Society Muhammed Abdulai explored how cultural encounters between students from the Global South (eg countries from Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), more specifically, Ethiopia, Ghana, Cameroon, Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia, and Tanzania) studying in the Global North (represented by Estonia and Denmark), as well as local informants – domestic students, academic and non-academic staff in the host societies – shape transformative learning experiences.

“Analysis of the experiences of the participants revealed that SSA students have a variety of motives to engage in studies in Europe,” introduces Abdulai his research, “regardless of their initial motives, they also serve an important function for host institutions by bringing diversity into the learning environment which promotes teaching, learning and tolerance of other cultures in higher education institutes.” The study identified cultural misunderstandings, misinterpretations, and low intercultural competence experiences among SSA students, but also among lecturers and administrators in universities in Estonia and Denmark. 

Study revealed that host universities can initiate transformative intercultural learning programs to strengthen and deepen intercultural understanding and co-existence. Abdulai explained that intercultural learning programs can be regular and accessible intercultural training seminars and lecture series to both teaching and non-teaching staff with the aim of enhancing their intercultural knowledge and skills. Also, more culturally diverse classrooms and research staff could be encouraged. That is, more quota can be allocated to international students and research staff with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds to enable them to experience transformative intercultural learning within the host universities. it would provide international students an alternative window for transformative intercultural learning experiences. 

The study highlighted that in addition to economic and technological inequalities between the sending and receiving countries of mobile students, there is also income and intellectual inequalities among mobile students from the Global South. It is just not possible for some SSA students to cross national borders and acquire skills, knowledge and experiences. The revelation of intellectual inequality among SSA students in the Global South offers a new perspective to explore social inequalities in both the global north and south contexts.

Abdulai developed a novel approach for analyzing how international student mobility and related cross-cultural encounters contribute to transformative intercultural learning in two hosting countries (Estonia and Denmark). “It goes beyond race as a crucial factor, and focuses instead on cultural encounters, integration, and transformative learning,” emphazises Abdulai, “therefore, the dissertation has employed the concept of culture and cast light on how different nationalities experience transformative intercultural learning in the higher education contexts in Estonia and Denmark”.  This is an enormous contribution to the sociology of migration, mobility and learning because the number of SSA students in Global North increases every year, but their experience and background are not frequently discussed in academic literature in Estonia or Denmark.

Muhammed Abdulai defends his doctoral thesis on May 11th at 13:00; defense can be followed via Zoom. Thesis supervisors are Triin Roosalu, Associate professor at Tallinn University and Brady Wagoner, Professor at Aalborg University. Opponents are Bonnie Slade, Professor at Glasgow University and Paul Thomas, Professor at South-Eastern Norway University.

The doctoral thesis is available in Tallinn University Digital Library ETERA.