Teaching and Learning Forum 2000 [ Proceedings Contents ]

Postgraduate business research competencies in Asia: Teaching or mutual learning for Australian academics?

Cecil A.L. Pearson
School of Commerce
Murdoch University
Samir R. Chatterjee
John Curtin International Institute
Curtin University
    Since the 1980s higher education has experienced unprecedented change in Australia especially through the involvement in international education trade. The growth in international trade in education has transformed the approaches to teaching-learning in many areas of business education. A hallmark of the new tertiary environments is the teaching of large numbers of international students both in Australia as well as overseas. In 1998 Australia recorded a remarkable figure of A$4.1 billion in the export of education services, which surpassed the traditional export earnings of agriculture, an industry that has taken five times longer to develop. In spite of these charges, it is perhaps true to say that the Australian approach has been generally a 'dig and deliver' mentality in the transfer of Western based information. Indeed, there has been very little debate about how to add value to the mutual learning process through collaborative research and development. This paper discusses an area largely ignored in the international trade in education, namely the teaching of research. Specifically, the paper addresses an approach for teaching research skills to post-graduate students (both local and international) by a participant-centred empirically anchored pedagogy. The paper highlights emerging issues of mutual learning in the field of business education and illustrates the arguments through two case studies involving senior level participants from India and Mongolia.
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Despite the financial and non-financial achievements of the Australian higher education industry this entrepreneurial success has yet to be translated into value added learning. During the past 15 years Australia has remarkably enhanced the trade of international education. Indeed, in 1998 Australia recorded an export value of some 4.1 billion dollars in the export of education services, a figure that surpassed the traditional export earnings of the Australian agricultural industry which took twice as long to establish (Chatterjee & Thorpe, 1999). In addition to this tangible benefit there are also long term intangible benefits. These benefits are reflected in the significant contributions university graduates make in economic, social and political domains not only in local and overseas countries, but also to the cultural development of mutual links and ventures. In spite of these positive outcomes there is, however, little evidence of the establishment of long-term research linkages marking a maturity of scholarly relationships.

Developing the research capacity of students is the weakest area of Australian tertiary education. Although reforms to the Australian higher education system have resulted in a rapid and far reaching impact on universities in areas of funding, control and performance assessments thoughtful encouragement of research studies involving new horizons of collaboration has not been evident. Australian universities have been able to exploit the position of a 'knowledge conduit', particularly with overseas first degree students, because of Australia's undoubted strength in educational infrastructure attracting a large number of international and particularly Asian students. The paradox is that although many newer Australian universities are endeavouring to become more research oriented, the link of research culture development and international trade in education is still unexplored.

In spite of the major development of international trade in education Australian has not shown any leadership in promoting business related research. Indeed, the methodological and philosophical implications of cross cultural management research have warranted scant attention, which is surprising given the potential value of international research projects. This paper presents a six phase model that considers certain issues and in particular the management of relationships when developing collaborative research endeavours, and provides two case studies to illustrate the model.

Collaborative research paradigm

Esterby-Smith and Malina (1999) recently presented a five phase model for collaborative business research. This model is an extension of the earlier collaborative cross-cultural research paradigm provided by Teagarden et al. (1995). These studies, which were conducted in 11 countries by researchers from 19 countries, provided a rare review of cross-cultural collaborative research. Although the studies were primarily designed to examine the quality of business discussion making a prominent unexpected finding was that flexibility and team relationships are key elements of successful collaborative research endeavours. This observation is particularly important for despite the considerable interest in cross-cultural business research (Boyacigiller & Adler, 1991; Early & Singh, 1995) there is significant debate and discussion as to an acceptable methodology. It is contended (by the authors) that anchoring Australian business research with the major Asian cultures warrants suboptimisation of available methods if the building of platforms of collaborative research is to be achieved.

Teagarden and her colleagues (1995) suggested a four stage model for the development of collaborative investigation into human resource management practices. It is interesting that the employed research paradigm and the survey instruments were initially developed without a great deal of understanding of the culture and context of the investigated countries. Subsequently, they encountered problems, and to maintain adequate rigour had to substantially adjust their research design. These adjustments included modification to the questionnaire wording, alterations to the items because of cultural sensitivity, and a shift from random sampling to procedural sampling. The need for flexibility as well as that the quality of relationship between respondents and researchers was recognised as being crucial elements in any successful collaborative research program.

The findings were confirmed in a subsequent cross-cultural idiographic study by Easterby-Smith and Malina (1999). This latter study, which was undertaken to better understand decision making relationships between U.K. and Chinese managers, was based on fieldwork methods and a team of seven Chinese academics and eight U.K. academics from five different universities (three were in the U.K.). The methodology included the writing up of case studies of how two major decisions were made in four Chinese and four U.K. companies that were similar by size and product. This idiographic study contrasts sharply with the Teagarden et al. (1995) nomothetic study which principally used a single survey instrument to obtain management decision making processes in a number of companies in ten countries. Moreover, this study was centrally designed and coordinated, whereas the Esterby-Smith and Malina (1999) investigation employed a process that ensured resourcing, design and execution was shared by the Chinese and U.K. academics. Easterby-Smith and Malina (1999), subsequently, reported the most important finding was the need for managing relationships and adapting methods for different national and cultural circumstances.

The results of our involvement in several cross-cultural studies endorse the importance of flexibility and research partnerships, but also reveal the need to extend the design process. After conducting a considerable number of studies in Central Asian and South East Asian countries, and reflecting on the outcomes, often with respondents and their representatives, a relatively successful six phase process has been formulated. While most of these phases are similar to or overlap the four and five phase processes described earlier our most recent findings (Chatterjee & Pearson, In press; Pearson & Chatterjee, 1999a; 1999b) suggest those conceptions and themes warrant extension. We contend that as learning and development have become the new paradigm of Asian managers these values have methodological and philosophical implications in any collaborative research agenda.

Six phases of cross-cultural collaborative research

In this paper it is argued that the enhancement of post graduate business research competencies can be developed by the employment of a six phase process which is presented as Table 1.

Table 1: Six phases of a cross-cultural research program


1Agenda setting for regional research collaboration
2Developing research network and competencies
3Bridging methodological diversities
4Structuring the research administration
5Recognition of multiple interactive approaches
6Integrating findings into teaching and mutual learning

Two case studies

Case 1: Academics in Mongolian higher education United Nations development program
Phase 1 The objective of the program was to expose a group of 15 Mongolian academics to Western quantitative research methods for investigating market based business practices. Specifically, the participants, who were involved in the collection of data from Mongolian organisations, came to Australia to attend a training course at Curtin University which involved instruction how to evaluate the responses. Key features of the program were the acquisition of computer relevant skills, statistical procedure, for data evaluation, and importantly how the survey items fitted local circumstances and needs to create regional variables for future research.
Phase 2 The elements reported in this paper are part of a continuing United Nations educational project in which John Curtin University is a major partner. This component of the project was a result of two major issues that had emerged in earlier quantitative studies. First, the Mongolian academics (and managers) had requested guidance and instruction about how to design survey instruments, and subsequently, how to analyse the collected data. Second, the Australian researchers, of these earlier nomothetic studies, were endeavouring to understand how to adjust wording and content of the survey instruments. These problems had not been anticipated in the early investigative endeavours.
Phase 3 Most Mongolian academics hold tertiary qualifications that have been acquired at Russian universities. These degree programs have a rich underpining in qualitative research competencies, but are lacking in traditional Western quantitative research properties. Thus the Mongolian academics were highly interested in learning the Western quantitative techniques so they could evaluate Mongolian organisational practices.
Phase 4 The overall administration of the project was conducted by Canberra, Federal Government Officials. Locally, the program was administered by representatives of the Curtin Business School.
Phase 5 The project was an extension of outcomes of studies that had been conducted in Mongolia one or two years earlier. Greater involvement of the participants and more fieldwork contrasted the earlier studies which had been based principally on one survey instrument (of Western scales), and a central administration. Although not yet a fully idiographic study, the design was aligned in that direction.
Phase 6 This project was a part of continuing United Nations education initiatives. The contributions of the Mongolian academics has provided the Australian researchers with deeper insights about research designs for maintaining adequate rigour in cross-cultural research. Arguably, the Mongolian academics have developed quality relationships with Australian researchers, for new projects have and are now being implemented.

Case 2: Doctoral Exchange Research: Curtin - International Institute of Management. First round cohort of five candidates: 1999-2000
Phase 1 Aim of this program was to enhance mutual learning at the doctoral level. It was hoped that researchers will extend their topic boundaries, methodological outlooks and collaborative approaches.
Phase 2 An agreement was reached by John Curtin University (JCU) and Indian Institute of Management (IIMC), Calcutta where in 1999-2000 three John Curtin International Institute (JCII) fellowships covering the local expenses of researchers for three months were instituted. IIMC covered the accommodation, meals and all other expenses for two JCII fellows in India for three months. A network of mentors were identified on both sides.
Phase 3 A distribution of topics were carefully organised in order to create methodological synergy. The topics were:

From India to Curtin:

  1. Computer assisted project management analogrithic choices.
  2. Human resource issues in executive compensation.
  3. Globalisation and foreign direct investment in India.
From Curtin to India:
  1. Globalisation of media industry and its impact on developing societies.
  2. Political history of ruling Jakarta Party and its policies on economic and industrial development.
Phase 4 The administration of the program was based on thoughtful placement of researchers. For example, the Indian computer project was administered through the computer department of Curtin University while the human resource research was assisted by the HR department of Curtin. The globalisation of media in India was administered through the IIMC's access to key decision makers in this area and the history project was assisted by allowing the candidate to access key figures in the Jakarta Party through IIMC.
Phase 5 All projects were modified significantly and new methodologies considered relevant. The doctoral researchers from Curtin Business School and South Asian Research unit responded to the presentations by the Indian group by pointing out new methodological opportunities while the Australian group benefited from talking to a range of experience doctoral supervisors in India.
Phase 6 All three Indian participants will complete their doctoral programs in 2000 and begin teaching in prestigious research and training institutes in India from 2001. The two Australian fellows will complete their PhDs in 2000-2001 and take up teaching positions in 2001-2002. The experience of the first cohort of five candidates will have a ripple effect in the mutual learning between Australia and India at doctoral level business-research.


In this paper is highlighted two important issues that warrant careful consideration in the design of cross-cultural research. Guidance for researchers, who intend to undertake collaborative cross-cultural investigative programs, is available as models that outline the phases that might be followed to enhance the quality of the research program. These models, that have been generated from experience and practice, report the stages that a researcher might adopt to resolve the problems encountered by investigators from outside the context being investigated. This paper presented a six phase model that was developed from our own observations during extensive fieldwork in a number of cross-cultural studies. Overall, all of these model clearly convey a message that the quality of cross-cultural research demands that 'outsider' researchers adjust and fit to the context they are studying. This we have termed regional involvement.

This paper presents two case studies to illustrate how regional involvement was addressed in two different research contexts. In the Mongolian case the 'outsider' researchers were able to teach the 'insider' (Mongolia) researchers who lacked a background in market culture and in the Western tradition of quantitative business research. The learning process was mutual as the 'outsider' researchers were able to gain deeper insights about the complex qualitative processes and assumptions held by the Mongolian participants. The Indian case employed a rare cross-cultural research process of immersing the 'outsider' researchers (Indians) into the host (Australian) context that was being investigated. Later, the 'outsider' researchers returned to their own country to teach colleagues. This strategy, that employed 'outsider' researchers as catalysts for future research endeavours, was possible because Indian has a higher level of research sophistication and methodological diversity than Mongolia, which is lower on both dimensions.

The second issue addressed in this paper is the relatively high expense of cross-cultural mutual learning research. Australia is providing educational aid to many countries that are transforming to social market economies, and India and Mongolia are two examples. However, in the process of teaching participants how to conduct business, how to confront the conditions of socio-economic upheaval, and the changes in their private lives as well as their working lives, Australian researchers will be obliged to reinvent themselves. Before teachers can provide comprehensive assistance to the learners the teachers must learn about their participating partners. Hence, cross-cultural research is intellectually expensive. Meaningful research across cultures requires a great deal of trust and team collaboration with members whose profiles are complementary.


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Chatterjee, S.R. & Pearson, C.A.L. (In press). Indian managers in transition: Orientations, workgoals, values and ethics. Management International Review.

Chatterjee, S.R. & Thorpe, M. (1999). Internationalisation of university strategy in Asia: Impact of international student movement. Paper presented at the Conference on Reforming the Universities for the 21st Century. July 31-1 Aug., International Conference Centre, Beijing.

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Easterby-Smith, M. & Malina, D. (1999). Cross-cultural collaborative research: Toward reflexivity. Academy of Management Journal, 42(1): 76-86.

Pearson, C.A.L. & Chatterjee, S.R. (1999a). Work goals in a society under economic reform: A study with Indian managers. International Journal of Management, 16(1): 139-146.

Pearson, C.A.L. & Chatterjee, S.R. (1999b). Work goals in a country in transition: A case study of Mongolian managers. International Journal of Manpower, 20(5&6): 324-333.

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Please cite as: Pearson, C. A.L. and Chatterjee, S. R. (2000). Postgraduate business research competencies in Asia: Teaching or mutual learning for Australian academics? In A. Herrmann and M.M. Kulski (Eds), Flexible Futures in Tertiary Teaching. Proceedings of the 9th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 2-4 February 2000. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2000/pearson.html

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