Academic acculturation through international education: The British Higher Education (HE) experience

The increasing internationalisation of higher education in the UK is reflected in the growing number of students who come from abroad to study and build their international profile (see Barron et al., 2010; Jiang et al, 2010; Gu, 2009). The quality of British HE is globally acknowledged (Sin, 2013), however, there are also educational complexities arising from differing curricula, learning styles, academic culture, and university practices (Barron et al., 2010; Luxon & Peelo, 2009). This then creates challenges for the host university and for its international students. Arguably, the greater the disparity between the host culture and the students’ culture, the more challenges arise, which may have implications for the overall quality of students’ experience and their successful completion. It is argued that research on academic acculturation necessitates a combination of understanding meaning-making, navigating different ‘models of knowledge’ (see Enders, 2005, for example), and different academic traditions, which needs to take into account philosophy, psychology, and sociology situated in an educational context. A holistic appreciation of students’ academic acculturation characterised by a sense of ‘academic literacy’ (Jiang et al., 2010: 156) or scholastic adaptation to and integration into the British HE context can offer a threefold advantage: a) a sound conceptualisation of different ‘models of knowledge’, b) understanding of the students’ skillset critical to success in an international education setting, and c) identification of university support mechanisms that facilitate academic acculturation.

This research examined the academic acculturation process experienced by 14 post-doctoral academics during their PhD education in a British institution. Using purposive sampling, the study participants were drawn from a cohort of non-British academics employed in one of the Russell-Group Universities in 2013-14 (who completed their PhD education in the UK within the last five years). Given the exploratory and reflective nature of the study, a novel research technique employing visual methods and metaphors (Iantaffi, 2011), widely used in sociology and increasingly used in education (see Baumfield, 2013: 56; Menter et al., 2011) was utilised to generate recollections of past events, e.g. in-depth and personal meaning of academic acculturation to the participants. Data were analysed using the Interpretative Phenomenological Approach (IPA). Using a psychological perspective, research findings led to a conceptual explanation of an extended acculturation model (Elliot et al., 2016).

PI and Co-Is

Principal Investigator: Dr Dely Elliot (School of Education, University of Glasgow)

Co-Investigators: Dr Kate Reid (School of Education, University of Glasgow) and Professor Vivienne Baumfield (Exeter University)

Start and End Date

Start Date of Project: November 2013

End Date of Project: 31 July 2014

Funder and Funding Amount

Adam Smith Research Foundation, University of Glasgow

Related Publications

Journal articles

Elliot, D. L., Reid, K. and Baumfield, V. (2016) Beyond the amusement, puzzlement and challenges: an enquiry into international students’ academic acculturation. Studies in Higher Education, 41(12), pp. 2198-2217. (doi:10.1080/03075079.2015.1029903)

Elliot, D. L., Baumfield, V., Reid, K. and Makara, K. A. (2016) Hidden treasure: successful international doctoral students who found and harnessed the hidden curriculum. Oxford Review of Education, 42(6), pp. 733-748. (doi:10.1080/03054985.2016.1229664)

Elliot, D., Baumfield, V. and Reid, K. (2016) Searching for 'a third space’: a creative pathway towards international PhD students’ academic acculturation. Higher Education Research and Development, 35(6), pp. 1180-1195. (doi:10.1080/07294360.2016.1144575)

Elliot, D. L., Reid, K. and Baumfield, V. (2016) Capturing visual metaphors and tales: innovative or elusive? International Journal of Research and Method in Education, (doi:10.1080/1743727X.2016.1181164) (Early Online Publication)


Conference Proceedings

Elliot, D., Baumfield, V., Reid, K. and Makara Fuller, K. (2016) Critical Insights from Successful International Student Sojourners. In: American Educational Research Association Conference (AERA), Washington DC, USA, 8-12 Apr 2016, (Unpublished)

Baumfield, V., Elliot, D. and Reid, K. (2015) The Academic Journeys of International Postgraduate Students. In: Going Global 2015, London, UK, 1-2 Jun 2015, (Unpublished)

Elliot, D., Baumfield, V. and Reid, K. (2015) 'The world is your oyster': international students' doctoral journey. In: European Association for Research on Learning and Instruction (EARLI), Limassol, Cyprus, 25-29 Aug 2013, (Unpublished)

Elliot, D., Reid, K. and Baumfield, V. (2015) Reaching new heights and capturing complexity: a case for greater use of visual methods in qualitative research. In: European Conference on Educational Research (ECER 2015), Budapest, Hungary, 8-11 Sep 2015, (Unpublished)

Reid, K., Elliot, D. and Baumfield, V. (2015) In Pursuit of 'A Third Space': Strengthening the Links Between Research and Practice for International PhD Students. In: CRLL International Conference: Student Engagement: From Research to Practice, Glasgow, Scotland, 9 Sep 2015, (Unpublished)

Elliot, D., Reid, K. and Baumfield, V. (2014) Academic acculturation in British academia: international PhD students' journey. In: Earli SIG Conference 2014: Assessing Transitions in Learning, Leuven, Belgium, 20-22 Aug 2014, (Unpublished)

Project News


An interactive poster presentation at the European Educational Research Association (EERA-ECER) Conference 2015 entitled ‘Reaching new heights and capturing complexity: a case for greater use of visual methods in qualitative research’ was selected for one of the three 'Best Poster Awards 2015'.

New projects:

Completion of this project and subsequent publications led to further research grants:

a) International Partnership Development Funding (IPDF) grant for the project: Intercultural Understanding of Postgraduate Studies. 2014

b) ESRC Impact Acceleration Account grant for the project: Towards maximising international PhD students’ experience in the UK. 2016

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