UCL Cultural Consultation Service


For staff

For Staff

Students discussing facing the blackboard

Teachers from white European backgrounds often experience difficulties in applying Western European models of teaching and supervision to students from a non-European background. They may feel uncomfortable when students address them in a deferential manner and do not challenge the teacher during supervision. They may conclude that their student does not hold

The UCL CCS (Cultural Consultation Service)

aims to enhance learning and teaching outcomes

for students and staff facing cross-cultural and

social conflicts.

independent views and is 'passive' or is not really interested in the subject. On the other hand, the student may view his or her behaviour towards their teacher as a mark of respect that is sacrosanct in their culture of origin. This could result in conflicting perspectives that may impede teaching and learning. 

Conversely, staff from non-White backgrounds may find it challenging to supervise students of white European ethnic origin due to projected, and consequently internalised, historical power imbalances. Race, culture, religion, social class, and gender profoundly shape teaching and learning. Such encounters often embody wider cultural conflicts. In our experience, these issues often have complex inter-linked cultural, social and psychological dimensions that require reflection and analysis.

Example one

A white, European lecturer notices that two students in her weekly tutorial do not contribute to the group discussion. When the lecturer speaks they hang onto her every word and copy down her comments verbatim. Whereas the other students in the group challenge the lecturer, these two do not. Also, these two students keep addressing their teacher as "Madam" whereas the lecturer and the other students all address each other by their first name. The lecturer is perplexed. She feels these two students are 'passive' and attributes this to their cultural background. This behaviour results in barriers to (a) staff teaching, (b) student learning and (c) bonding with peer-group.

    Example two

    A male black British lecturer is supervising a white North American female PhD student from a wealthy, well-connected family. She graduated from an Ivy League University. The student is bright and articulate. She is very demanding of the supervisor e.g. requesting to meet at least twice as frequently as any of his other students. Even when the supervisor has clearly indicated both a start-point and an end-point to the scheduled meeting, this student makes ever-increasing demands on time.

    The supervision meetings always go over the scheduled time. The supervisor feels anxious about refusing this student's demands. He has difficulty maintaining firm time boundaries with her. He fears the student may complain to the head of department, who is white British. He worries that this may also impact on his academic career progression in view of his minority ethnic status. The student wants value for money.

    Example three

    A white British female lecturer keeps receiving anxious calls from the father of one of her students to enquire if his daughter is progressing well in her studies. The student is from a country where it is not uncommon for parents to meet with or discuss their childrens' academic progress with college teachers. The lecturer, who has also received several expensive gifts from the student's family, becomes increasingly annoyed both with the student and her family.

    She tells this student's father it is against the university regulations for her to discuss his daughter's progress with him as this is a breach of staff-student confidentiality. She refuses to accept any further gifts. The student and her father are upset. The student feels ambivalent and caught up in the conflict as she seeks both approval from her father and academic praise from her supervisor. The father feels hurt because his well-meaning intentions are rejected. The lecturer thinks the student and her family must accept the cultural change in the learning environment.