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What is Global Competency?

Global competency is the ability to be aware, understand, respond, and respect on global and intercultural perspectives, events, and issues.
Chan, CKY (2021)

Multiple terms are used interchangeably with global competency, including intercultural sensitivity, global citizenship, and intercultural competence. Although these terms have slightly different emphasis, they speak to the same fundamental idea as defined above.

A more nuanced and widely-cited definition came from OECD (2018) which conceptualised global competency as a multi-dimensional construct that encompasses the ability to:

(1) Examine Issues of Local, Global and Cultural Significance

Example: In a public seminar, a professor talked about gender inequality in different parts of the world. Julia was surprised that many girls of her age are deprived of education and even forced into child marriage. To learn more about gender issues, Julia continued to search for information online and in the school library. Based on her research, Julia started to reflect on the causes of gender disparity and became observant of the more insidious forms of gender discrimination in her daily life.

(2) Understand and Appreciate the Perspectives and Worldviews of Others

Example: Wang noticed that several classmates have stopped eating lunch. Instead of judging them, Wang asked his classmates for reasons and showed genuine interest to know more about their religious fast.


Global Competency Framework (OECD, 2018, p.11)

(3) Engage in Open, Appropriate and Effective Interactions Across Cultures

Example: One of the students in Schmidt and Tina’s group always remained silent during discussions.  While Schmidt got angry with this student for being ‘non-cooperative’, Tina told Schmidt that silence in some cultures denotes careful thought and can be interpreted as a sign of respect. Tina and Schmidt then politely asked this student why she preferred silence and the three of them worked out a more effective discussion plan.

(4) Take Action for Collective Well-being and Sustainable Development

Example: Back in university, Alba and Himari served as volunteers to teach teenage girls in less developed countries how to prevent AIDS. After they graduated, they launched an AIDS intervention programme across 3 countries to provide medical and psychological support to those in need.

These four dimensions are also supported by four inseparable factors, serving as building blocks of global competency – i.e. knowledge (knowledge about the world and other cultures), skills (skills to understand the world and take action), attitudes (attitudes of openness, respect for people from different backgrounds and global mindedness), and values (valuing human dignity and diversity). Figure 1 visually captures the global competency framework.

What is Global Competency?

Are You a Globally Competent Learner?

A person who is literate in global competency is someone who is able to:

  • Be aware of ethical responsibility;

  • Have a sense of citizenship and responsibility to contribute to the society;

  • Understand your own culture;

  • Understand and respect other cultures and perspectives; and

  • Consider local, global and intercultural events and issues.

Globally competent learner_F.png

Are You a Globally Competent Learner?

Are You a Globally Competent Learner?

Why is Global Competency Important?

In an era of increasing interconnectedness, learning how to participate in, as well as contribute to, a globalised world is of utmost importance to advance a shared sense of human dignity and secure a truly sustainable future. In line with this, OECD (2018) further proposed four major reasons explaining why the development of global competency should be prioritised.

To Live Harmoniously in Multicultural Communities

Educating for global competency carries significance for building a peaceful global community where people respect differences and resolve disagreements through communication. In post-Cold War times, ethno-cultural disputes have become the most prevalent cause of political violence worldwide, and they show no signs of abating (Sen, 2007). Rapid migration flows in numerous countries and cities necessitate fresh critical perspectives on issues of identity, belonging, and citizenship (Boix Mansilla & Wilson, 2020). Global competency is needed to unite people from diverse cultures against violence and segregation. 

To Thrive in a Changing Labour Market

The globalised workplace has now placed new expectations on employees to think and act on a global scale. Those who collaborate well with people from different backgrounds, demonstrate profound insights into the global market, and capable of building trust in culturally diverse teams are more likely to improve their career prospects (British Council, 2013).


Significance of Global Competency

To Use Media Platforms Effectively and Responsibly

A slew of emerging technologies are transforming our lives, arguably at a pace that has never been witnessed before. While technologies bring more convenience and agency to people to engage with the world, an expanded conception of responsibility is needed in face of internet hatred, rapid spread of biased news, and unethical uses of technologies. Against this context, global competency may help people more responsibly express themselves online and capitalise on digital environments in an ethical manner.

To Support the Sustainable Development Goals

Despite significant improvements, many global issues (e.g., racial discrimination, global warming) still remain unsolved. Joint efforts should be made to achieve more sustainable development. In view of this, global competency is central to tackling these social, environmental, political and economic challenges by enabling people to take informed and reflective action.

Why is Global Competency Important?

How is Global Competency Developed?

A sizeable body of research has reported effectiveness of study abroad programmes to enhance students’ global competency (e.g., Williams, 2005; Marx & Moss, 2011; Fang & Baker, 2017). Despite the proclaimed usefulness, these programmes also pose fundamental limitations, such as high costs, time commitment, and constraints of political ties between countries.

Therefore, more attention has been re-directed to integrating global competency development into the existing curriculum. Here we introduce several student-centred activities that are found useful:

The Story Circle Approach

In groups of 5 or 6, students take turns to share a 3-min story about their first experience encountering someone different from them. When students all finish sharing their stories, they then discuss the most memorable point from each story in a ‘flash back’ activity. The Story Circles approach has been adopted in many classrooms worldwide, contributing to greater self-awareness, mutual respect and openness among participants (Deardorff, 2019).

Organised Discussions

To stimulate discussions, teachers can first show students thought-provoking videos, pictures or articles about global issues. Topics of global issues can be clearly tied to disciplinary knowledge. For example, a mathematics teacher can engage students in discussions about whether linear or exponential functions better capture the data on world population growth, or an English teacher can guide the class to explore the social status of different varieties of English. Based on evidence, students then freely express their views and respond to ideas of their peers. In this process, students become more aware of different perspectives to approach even a same problem and learn to reflect on their own beliefs.

Group-based Project Work

In group-based project work, students work together on a global issue they are interested in. For example, in Li’s (2013) study, 34 Chinese students were each paired up with a partner student from the U.S. to collaborate virtually on an international business-related research paper. Through pre- and post- tests, the study documented proven effectiveness of such intervention on students’ global competency.

How is Global Competency Developed?

How Should l Assess Global Competency?

No single assessment method fully accounts for the complexity of global competency. One of the most ambitious assessment endeavours was conducted by Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2018, which measured the global competency level of 15-year-old students from 66 countries and economies (OECD, 2020). The PISA global competency assessment consists of two parts: (a) a cognitive test featuring scenario-based tasks and case studies to examine students’ global understanding, and (b) a set of self-report survey items investigating students’ intercultural awareness, skills and attitudes. Although the PISA approach reflects the need for summative, large-scale assessment, it cannot replace formative assessment of global competency at the classroom level. Figure 3 shows an example test item from PISA.

In a similar vein to PISA’s self-report survey, a number of other instruments are available to measure students’ self-perceived level of global competency, such as Global Competence Scale for Graduate Students (Liu, Yin, & Wu, 2020) and Global Citizenship Scale (Morais & Ogden, 2011). Others were developed in earlier times, such as Intercultural Sensitivity Inventory (Bhawuk & Brislin, 1992), the Intercultural Development Inventory (Hammer, Bennett, & Wiseman, 2003), and the Cross-Cultural Adaptivity Inventory (Williams, 2005). Although utilising self-report instruments appears to be cost-effective and facilitates generalisation, many scholars have expressed validity concerns (Hammer et al., 2003; Sinicrope et al., 2007). For example, in Altshuler and colleagues’ research (2003), they found a significant discrepancy between participants’ self-perceived intercultural awareness and their actual abilities.

To compensate for the limitations of self-report instruments, Deardorff (2006) recommended a combination of qualitative and quantitate approaches to measure global competency.

Global Competency_A.png

Examples of Assessment Approaches for Global Competency


PISA Test Sample Items

A relevant example is the Intercultural Competence Assessment Project where students’ intercultural competence was assessed through surveys, scenario-based interviews, and role plays (Sinicrope et al., 2007). During the interviews, students responded to intercultural scenarios provided to them via text or videos; and in role plays, students collaborated with peers from various cultural backgrounds on a same project, the process of which was assessed by trained examiners. Other common qualitative approaches include observations and portfolios.

How Should I Assess Global Competency?

End Remarks

Rethinking Global Competency - How 'Global' is Global Competency?

While scholars aim to provide global competency frameworks and theories that are relatively ‘culturally-neutral’, it should be noted that existing research is predominantly rooted in a Western, Euro-American context. These conceptualisations of global competency need to be reinterpreted through local lenses and in a more culturally-informed way.

For example, Boix Mansilla and Wilson (2020) found that in Western education, high levels of global competency foreground curiosity, passion and open-mindedness, whereas in China, globally competent individuals are often associated with earnestness, endurance of hardship, and perseverance. In South Africa, concepts such as ‘Ubuntu’ (i.e. a person is a person because of others) and collective identity stand tall among local people’s characterisation of global competency (Khoza, 2011).

Localising global competency reveals the dilemma lying at the heart of a globalised world – that is – how can we strike the balance between enhancing shared values that cannot be compromised and appreciating the diversity of cultures? (OECD, 2020). Generalisation may jeopardise diversity, whereas overemphasis on different perspectives makes it difficult to uphold any core values. To further advance global competency, more critical research, practice and reflection are needed.


Questions for Reflection

End Remarks


Altshuler, L., Sussman, N. M., & Kachur, E. (2003). Assessing changes in intercultural sensitivity among physician trainees using the intercultural development inventory. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 27, 387-401.

Bhawuk, D. P. S., & Brislin, R. (1992). The measurement of intercultural sensitivity using the concepts of individualism and collectivism. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 16, 413-436.

Boix Mansilla, V., & Jackson, A. (2011). Educating for global competence: Preparing our youth to engage the world. Asia Society. CCSSO-Asia Society.

Boix Mansilla, V., & Wilson, D. (2020). What is Global Competence, and What Might it Look Like in Chinese Schools? Journal of Research in International Education, 19(1), 3-22.

British Council (2013). Culture at Work: The Value of Intercultural Skills in the Workplace. United Kingdom: British Council.

Deardorff, D. K. (2006). Identification and assessment of intercultural competence as a student outcome of internationalization. Journal of Studies in Intercultural Education, 10, 241–266.

Fang, F., & Baker, W. (2017). ‘A more inclusive mind towards the world’: English language teaching and study abroad in China from intercultural citizenship and English as a lingua franca perspectives. Language Teaching Research, 22(5), 608-624.

Hammer, M. R., Bennett, M. J., & Wiseman, R. (2003). Measuring intercultural sensitivity: The intercultural development inventory. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 27, 421-443.

Khoza, R. (2011). Attuned Leadership: African Humanism as Compass. Johannesburg: Penguin.

Li, Y. (2013). Cultivating Student Global Competence: A Pilot Experimental Study. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, 11(1), 125-143.

Liu, Y., Yin, Y., & Wu, R. (2020). Measuring graduate students’ global competence: Instrument development and an empirical study with a Chinese sample. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 67, 100915.

Marx, H., & Moss, D. M. (2011). Please mind the culture gap: Intercultural development during a teacher education study abroad program. Journal of teacher education62(1), 35-47.

Morais, D. B., & Ogden, A. C. (2011). Initial development and validation of the global citizenship scale. Journal of studies in international education15(5), 445-466.

OECD. (2018). Preparing our youth for an inclusive and sustainable world – the OECD PISA Global competence framework. Paris: PISA, OECD Publishing.

OECD (2020). PISA 2018 Results (Volume VI): Are Students Ready to Thrive in an Interconnected World?. Paris: PISA, OECD Publishing.

Sen, A. (2007). Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny. India: Penguin Books.

Sinicrope, C., Norris, J., & Watanabe, Y. (2007). Understanding and assessing intercultural competence: A summary of theory, research, and practice (technical report for the foreign language program evaluation project). University of Hawaii Second Language Studies Paper 26 (1).

Williams, T. R. (2005). Exploring the impact of study abroad on students’ intercultural communication skills: Adaptability and sensitivity. Journal of studies in international education9(4), 356-371.

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