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Spletna revija IBS Poročevalec je namenjena domačim in tujim znanstvenikom, raziskovalcem, strokovnjakom, študentom in praktikom na področjih mednarodnega poslovanja, trajnostnega razvoja, tujih jezikov in javne uprave. Najpomembnejši del IBS Poročevalca je objava recenziranih znanstvenih, raziskovalnih, strokovnih in poljudnih člankov, ki obravnavajo teme kot mednarodno poslovanje, trajnostni razvoj, organizacija, pravo, okoljska ekonomika in politika, trženje, raziskovalne metode, menedžment, korporativna družbena odgovornost in druga področja.


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2013 > Letnik 3, št. 2


natisni E-pošta


World, its economy, government and the majority of other sectors are getting more and more internationalized.

This means increased communication, sharing of information and experiences among different areas. The economy and government have become intertwined and co-dependent although there are many cultural differences and barriers especially in Europe with its different languages and histories of individual nations and tradition. The article Intercultural Competences for Public Administration intends to describe the increasing international activities of the public administration in Slovenia, and suggest new courses needed for international education of civil servants. The findings of the research indicate that employees in public administration should be acquainted with courses like characteristics and business behaviour of different European countries, international communication, creative business writing, relaxed conversation in a foreign language, international business, sustainable management, etc. Such courses can help students acquire the necessary skills for work in the period of globalization and increase cooperation among European nations.


Key words: Public administration, tertiary education, intercultural competencies



The article Intercultural Competences for Public Administration intends to describe the increasing international activities of the public administration in Slovenia, and suggest new courses and themes needed for international education of civil servants.

The Republic of Slovenia has always been in close contact with other nations. In the last centuries Slovenia was under the Austro-Hungarian Empire, under France, during the Second World War it was divided between Germany, Italy and Hungary and in the 19th century a part of the ex-Yugoslavia. Slovenia became independent in 1991 and joined the European Union in 2004.

The rate of internationalization of the Slovene economy, measured by the average export and import share of GDP was up to 2009 relatively high. Slovene business companies have had plans to further increase export and import activities but the financial crisis stopped the growth in 2010. The most frequently used international operations in Slovenia are importing, direct exports, export through an intermediary and contracts (Ruzzier, Antoncic, Hisrich, 2007), sole venture direct investments, while there are not so many licensing, joint venture direct investments and franchising. Slovene SMEs make on average between 20% and 30% of their sales from international operations and sell about one-quarter of their products or services to foreign markets. Companies and employees are more or less efficient in doing this, but on average the employees of Slovene SMEs dedicate less than 25% of their time to international operations.

However, economy with its export, import and other activities represents only one part of international processes taking place in Slovenia. No detailed analysis has been made about the internationalization of public administration so far but it is obvious that almost all public administration institutions are in one or another way involved in the processes of internationalization.

President of the Republic of Slovenia with his staff, Office of the Prime Minister, different ministries (especially Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Economy, Ministry of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Transport, Ministry of Public Administration, Ministry of Finance) as well as governmental offices (Government Office for Development and European Affairs, Office for Local Self-Government and Regional Policy, Government Office for Slovenians Abroad, Government Communication Office, Protocol of the Republic of Slovenia, Office for National Minorities) cooperate in numerous international projects, arrangements, and economic activities. They exchange visits and share experiences, cooperate with foreign firms in Slovenia and help Slovene firms abroad, try to motivate more extensive import, export, cultural and other exchanges. People employed in the contemporary public administration have to study and bring into Slovenia foreign experiences. Quite a number of public servants take part in the creation of EU policies, contribute to the promotion of Slovenia in EU member states and other target countries, publish information about Slovenia, and participate in international conferences. Also Slovene communes started to develop international links. Some cooperate in European projects, make closer contacts with foreign communes because they cooperate in the field of economy, send their representatives abroad to study development of one or another economic activity.

In the last years there have been several reports in the newspapers about how local and state administrations adapt successful foreign practices and other organizations of social infrastructure. Tax Administration of the Republic of Slovenia found a useful tax practice in Netherlands and will try to adapt it to Slovenia. Slovene local administrations think about increasing international connections with the neighbouring countries and try to contribute to sustainable development by cooperation in European programmes etc. (Bertoncelj Popit, 2010).

These tendencies of internationalization show that economy with its import and export activities is no more the only sector that has to do with internationalization. In fact, it is a question where there is more internationalization, in public administration and/or government or in business firms. Therefore we should not speak only about international business or international economic activities but also – or perhaps even more – about international public administration activities and about the necessity to introduce new intercultural competencies also in the education of civil servants and not only in business.

The paper first describes the international activities in Slovene public administration and tasks of the employees, quotes a literature review on intercultural competencies, and lists suggestions for new necessary courses and themes that will acquaint students with intercultural competencies.

The findings of the research will help to answer the questions:

-          Is public administration getting so internationalized that employees should be acquainted with intercultural competences?

-          Which courses should be introduced in BA programmes of the future civil servants to develop their intercultural competencies?


International Activities in Slovene Government and/or Public Administration

This chapter gives a short summary of international activities that take place in Slovene public administration daily as it can be seen on the web pages of the government, in newspapers and on TV.

The National Assembly of the Republic of Slovenia cooperates with international parliamentary institutions and international organizations, has its delegations in international parliamentary institutions, cooperates with other parliaments through parliamentary friendship groups, its members participate in international conferences, receive foreign representatives to discuss matters of common interest, visit foreign countries to learn foreign experiences etc. (Republic of Slovenia, National Assembly, 2011).

Slovene president and his staff are strongly involved in international activities because the President receives all the most important foreign visitors, participates in the international meetings, addresses international conferences, visits foreign countries, gives interviews. Similarly, the Prime Minister accepts many foreign guests and performs visits abroad.

Slovenia’s presidency of the Council of the European Union, Regional partnership, Chairmanship of the Council of Europe etc. extended international activities of Slovene public administration.

Slovenia participates in a number of international organizations: European Public Administration Network, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Network of School of Public Administration in Central and Eastern Europe, and in several fields of e-government (Slovenia, 2011).

Among the most internationalized parts of Slovene public administration is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs especially because of the following areas of work:

- Preparation and formulation of positions, work within international organizations, conventions, forums and bilateral joint committees etc.

- Assistance in arranging international visits and events

- Coordination in preparing positions, responses and statements in legislative procedures

- Cooperation between the Ministry and Slovenia’s Permanent Representation to the EU in Brussels

- Participation in preparing materials for Transport, Telecommunications and Energy Councils for the Slovenian Transport Minister

Monitoring of project implementation co-financed by the EU.

Also other ministries are going international, e.g. Slovene Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning (the presidency of the Alpine Convention), Slovene Ministry of Culture (elaboration of proposals of cultural policy measures, promotion of Slovenian culture and achievements of Slovene artists on international level), Slovene Ministry of Health (international meetings, e.g. within the framework of Eurotransplant International Foundation).

Even Slovene communes in spite of being local administrative units are increasing their international work. Communes situated in the vicinity of the border have partnerships with similar administrative institutions across the border, cooperate in common projects, exchange visits, share knowledge and experiences and acquire new knowledge. Some communes founded centers for international cooperation in EU to perform research activities, international meetings, cultural exchange and participate in different working groups. A number of international competitions and other arrangements are organized in different communes (Obcina Gornja Radgona, 2011).

The internationalization means searching data bases, agents, representatives, sending off brochures and information to prospects, discussing possible representation, corresponding in English and other foreign languages, arranging for legal registration abroad, talking to local accounting and consulting firms. In an international area it is necessary to communicate by e-mail, mobile phones, text-messaging, video- and Web-conferencing as well as by international travel and face-to-face meetings.Employees in public administration accept and inform foreign visitors, receive, transfer, answer phone calls, accept and reply letters and e-messages, write and explain reports, analyses, articles, cooperate in public relations and different marketing activities, accept, classify, and process documents in foreign languages, have to complete and control transport, export- and import documents, design and write letters and other documents in foreign languages, enter documents in evidences, manage lists and evidences, archive documents, study foreign laws and rules, control international tenders, issue confirmations and certificates, prepare agreements, gather data about the possibility of education and training abroad, participate in EU and other projects, organize international meetings and conferences, prepare documents for meetings, organize accommodation and travel of foreign guests, organize international travel and so on.

All these tasks require in front of all a good command of at least one or preferably more foreign languages because they have to communicate both orally as well as in writing.

International activities require special sensitivity and comprehension. When making contacts with other cultures, e.g. at international trade shows, seeking for suppliers, exporters, importers, joint-venture partners, embassy officials, chambers of commerce, trade associations and consultants, one has to be prepared to overcome stereotypes, differences and prejudices. Generalizations and categories are necessary, but when they are too rigid they can be a barrier to the effective interpretation of a situation (Gibson, 2008, 12). This is especially important when discussing prices, payment terms, specifications, quality, quantity, and all the other issues involved in international business.

The most competitive Slovene companies in the future will be those that will produce and sell on international markets (Ferk, 2010). Globalization requires from management quick and continuous adaptation to foreign cultures. The same is required from management in public administration and government.


Literature survey on intercultural competencies

For a long time it was believed that internationalization will introduce a common international culture, most probably the one of Western countries but it is obvious that we are still far from universal cultural solutions (Hofstede, 2001, Jandt, 2004).

The concept of being intercultural is challenging and not always comfortable. Being intercultural involves questioning the taken-for-granted conventions within which one lives, seeking to empathise with the experience of others, reflecting on the impact of this upon oneself and one’s own identities. Those who work in international area should be aware that people are uncomfortable to do business with complete strangers, especially if it seems that these have different values and habits. An intercultural approach does not mean abandoning one’s own value positions but it means recognising the importance of understanding and negotiation (Alred, Byram, Fleming, 2006).

Members of one culture can, by the force of imaginative insight, understand the values, the ideals, the form of life of another culture or society, even those remote in time or space. They may find these values unacceptable, but if they open their minds sufficiently they can grasp how one might be a full human being, with whom one could communicate, and at the same time live in the light of values widely different from one’s own.

Byram recommends (Alred, Byram, Fleming, 2006, 121) that employees in international organizations should be educated how to grasp and take seriously the opinions and arguments of others, recognize those who have different opinions, be able to put oneself in the position of others, accept criticism and listen. They should make their own opinions (needs, interests, feelings, values) clear, speak coherently, and explain clearly. Every kind of violence, humiliation, insult etc. should be abandoned. People should take account of those who are weaker, reduce discrimination, integrate outsiders. It is necessary to organise group work, cooperate in the distribution of work, take on tasks, trustworthiness, perseverance, care and conscientiousness. In the global world people should tolerate plurality, divergences, differences, recognise conflicts, as far as possible create balance, and resolve problems in socially acceptable ways, accept mistakes and differences, find compromises, seek consensus, accept majority decisions, tolerate minorities, promote encouragement, balance rights and responsibilities, and show trust and courage. Group responsibility, development of fair norms and common interests and needs should be emphasized and common approaches to tasks pursued.

Slovenia still falls short of these recommendations because of its strong emphasis on national identity and with little indication of any elements of education for intercultural citizenship. While large enterprises are increasingly involved in cross-border operations and have been acquainted (at least to a certain degree) with cultural differences among their and foreign countries, the globalization process presents challenges and opportunities especially for small and medium-sized enterprises and for the public administration. Organizations that want to do business efficiently in a global environment should take into account language, religion, values and attitudes, education, social organization, technology and material culture, the political environment, and the legal environment (Jazbec, 2007).

Himmelmann says that words and terms have a certain meaning and sense in every language (Alred, Byram, Fleming, 2006, 69). Terms are embedded in a certain culture. They emerge from that culture. They are modes of communication and ways of thinking in that culture. They symbolise certain contents and provoke certain connotations for those who are used to the words and terms in question. A model for intercultural competence proposes an integration of linguistic/communicative objectives with intercultural competence objectives.

Of key importance in international firms is knowledge of foreign languages to a degree which enables not only basic expressions but a relaxed conversation and understanding that there are differences in the same language spoken in different countries. Language barriers, adjustments to different cultural and linguistic environment can be observed as shyness, language, social and personal uncertainties, fear of failure and communication problems. There should be information about what to do when different cultures fail to understand one another, either for language, behavioural, or cultural reasons. Foreign languages in Slovenia have long been taught under the supposition that it is most important to know grammatical rules and that one should speak without mistakes (Marinko, 2010). This contributed to serious problems in relaxed conversation and higher education institutions must engage their students and professors in critical and creative reflections and discourse and not hold onto past practices (Riznar, 2010).

Several authors recommend that employees who work in international environment should be acquainted with intercultural competences such as knowledge, tolerance, flexibility, awareness of one’s own cultural identity, openness for new experiences, considering opinions, ability to adapt to values of other people, ethical behaviour, patience, interpersonal skills, empathy, sense of humour (Van Eyken et. al., 2005).

A survey of courses taught at Slovenian colleges and faculties for public administration shows that students who will become civil servants develop knowledge in the areas of law, administration, constitution, IT, economics, organization, management, EU, and on some colleges also politics, policies, international relations, history, psychology, communication, democracy, human rights, and voting system. Foreign languages are not always considered as core subjects and in the best case they represent about 5 % of pedagogical hours. Slovene BA study programmes for public administration/political sciences do not offer enough foreign languages and lack courses in the area of intercultural cooperation. If the students do not acquire their intercultural skills through additional education, they will not be able to contribute to better understanding of differences among different nations in the globalized world.


Suggestions for new courses containing intercultural competences

The demarcation between the public and private sectors is blurred. Laws, regulations, tax policies, contracts, grants and loans require an interaction between the two sectors so that even in the private sector an understanding of public administration and government is critical (Cleveland State University, 2011).

In the past ten years a number of world’s changes have contributed to significant changes of the public administration which requires new skills, attitudes and behaviour among public officials at all levels. The core competencies for the public sector in the 21st century differ in many ways from the past. The skills, knowledge and competencies are increasing and becoming more complex (United Nations, 2005).

To ensure compliance with the normative framework, reduce the level of conflict, guarantee peaceful co-existence, make contemporary government and/or public administration into an example of dialogue between cultures, the employees in public administration should be acquainted with some basic intercultural competences.

Foreign languages are among the most important intercultural competencies. Foreign languages express different cultures and give the possibility to understand different cultures. Students who speak more foreign languages can communicate with several countries. Knowledge of foreign languages opens the door to other cultures and can improve intercultural understanding in Europe and with the rest of the world. Different documents of the EU emphasize the importance of languages and there are many actions and projects that support knowledge of foreign languages. Therefore the first condition of the new study programmes for government/public administration is knowledge of foreign languages. Foreign languages should be taught at least to the level B 2 CEF.

There should be more courses/themes on European citizenship and participations; students should expand the world view through understanding and respect of different cultures and with other contemporary aspects of intercultural communication and international cooperation. The courses should help acquire knowledge about characteristics and habits of different European countries, international communication, different beliefs, practices, rituals, ceremonies of particular groups of people, sustainable management etc. The study programmes should include courses/themes on behaviour, values, communication style, conflict-solving-techniques etc.

Public administration should also be acquainted with ethnic minorities in their countries. Cities are environments where immigrants are confronted with discrimination and racism (Sprung, 2004).

There are some university programmes that already contain suitable courses which acquaint students with intercultural competencies and these should be included in public administration studies:

Ethics in public administration

Cross-cultural and ethical dimensions of international management

Administrative morality


Values in public administration

Public ethics and the common good

Diplomacy in EU

History of European nations

European societies and globalization

European nations and their characteristics

Organizational and administrative cultures and procedures

Cultures and societies of foreign nations

Sustainable management

Sustainable economics

Communication in social and public spheres

Foreign languages

Creative writing in foreign languages

Foreign languages in EU projects

Cross-cultural management

International relations and globalisation

Intergovernmental relations and management

International relations in international communities

Managing in the international arena

International protection of minorities etc.



Slovene leading economists, governmental and educational institutions are convincing business firms and other organizations that they should increase their international contacts and enlarge their possibilities in the global world. In the future we can expect much more export, import, joint-ventures, global marketing etc. which means communication with most different cultures in different languages. However, not only business but also government and/or public administration are going international. The most different services and bodies from the President of the Republic of Slovenia to the communes exchange visits and share experiences, cooperate in international projects and agreements, participate in international conferences and intend to increase international contacts. Therefore it is necessary that also future civil servants develop their knowledge of one or more foreign languages and that they are acquainted with intercultural competencies such as tolerance, flexibility, awareness of one’s own cultural identity, openness for new experiences, considering opinions, ability to adapt to values of other people, ethical behaviour, patience, interpersonal skills, empathy and so on.

Our study programmes which educate students for work in the public administration and/or government should offer more foreign languages and courses which would develop intercultural competencies. The paper lists some courses that should be included in the curriculums of future civil servants. However, it will be necessary to create also more new courses and thus contribute to intercultural knowledge.


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