Importance of Studying Ethics in Class

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In the modern-day world, ethics occupy an imperative position in every aspect of life. It differentiates between a right and a wrong and inculcates important values such as honesty and integrity in people. The tenets of ethics shape individuals’ behaviour and provide them the opportunity to make the right decisions. Therefore, the absence of ethics makes it challenging to regulate the way of life within the society and holding people responsible for their actions. Taking into account its paramount importance, ethics thus is an essential subject in any field of education. Students must be indoctrinated with strong ethical values because they will be the ones to run the system in future. By setting acceptable standards, they will be in a position to protect the society from dishonest activities. It is the responsibility of the teacher to impart ethical values relevant to the student’s profession. For that reason, academic institutions have continued to develop ethics learning materials for learners to benefit. This research paper seeks to establish the importance of studying ethics for students.

Why is it important for students to learn ethics, because in professional world there will be ethical teachings too?

Overview of the Issue of Ethics in Class

The entire realm of ethics is controversial. The Kantians affirm that only the intentions of a person or a party matter morally while consequentialists point out that the consequences of an individual’s actions are important in a given moral stance. Additionally, while some look at inequality as a problematic societal issue, others have an opposite viewpoint (Gert, 2005). Therefore, ethics is one of the subjects that many people disagree, especially on its foundational issues. Educational institutions play a vital role in minimising unethical tendencies by imparting technical proficiency and ethical sensibility (Slocum, Rohlfer & Gonzalez-Canton, 2014). The primary objective of ethics is not to inculcate substantive doctrines in the mind of students but rather teach them how to differentiate the good from the bad. It raises questions, provides the methods and procedures of finding the solution, and lets the students find appropriate resolutions. Students get to provide ethical reasons behind their decisions or views and counter the others’ reasons without eliciting misconceptions or flawed arguments (Henry & Dodson, 2009).

Once out of college and in the outside world, students will encounter situations that will require them to make moral decisions. They will find themselves in such situations in their day-to-day lives, which imply that ethics is everywhere. For that reason, teaching ethics helps students contemplate on the moral dimensions of the choices they make. Although they can learn this at the workplace, professional trainings come occasionally and they may not be as comprehensive and detailed as class work.

It is also important for students to learn ethics because of the difficulties that come with making moral decisions (Floyd et al., 2013). Since ethical choices will make up important choices in the students’ lives, they need adequate individual capacity to take the right step. Professional trainings may impart knowledge and capabilities but class is the most appropriate alternative (Felton & Sims, 2005). Students will not escape the ultimate responsibility of making the right decision and even at a given point; they will seek counsel with colleagues perceived as trustworthy. Regrettably, they get competing advices from the people who underwent the same professional training (Appelbaum, Deguire & Mathieu, 2005), Thus, once the student has ethical knowledge obtained from the class, they will be able to make the right decision with minimal challenges.

Ethical failures were the cause of recent corporate scandals such as Enron and WorldCom. The higher education institutions were implicated in the cases due to their failure to go beyond the provision of simply information and knowledge, to a position of enhancing the critical thinking capabilities of students, to improve their personal awareness so that they become better leaders in the corporate world (Costa, Pinheiro & Ribeiro, 2016).

O'Leary (2009) points out that although individual factors such as culture, and religion and situation elements for instance organisational culture shape the moral stance of an individual, Christensen, Peirce, Hartman, Hoffman & Carrier (2007) are of the opposite opinion that it is important to plant a seed of consciousness in the student in the manner in which they perceive things. Teaching ethics tries to changes the moral compass of the person. It becomes an internal deterrent so the person will at least try to do what is right when faced with difficult decisions. 

Typically, not all students in the university or college intend to be employed. Some may establish their own organisations while the others inherit companies. Therefore, Christensen et al. (2007) asserts that learning ethics in class gives them perspectives on how ethical practises help them establish and run businesses without resorting to malpractices. In a dedicated ethics class, students get to analyse case studies of organisations that run their activities ethically, the struggles of ethical production process, honest reporting of accounts and the long and tiresome government approvals. O'Leary (2009) supports this view by pointing out that they gain deeper insights on the advantages and difficulties of running a business in an ethical manner. On the other hand, case studies of organisations that collapsed due to ethical malpractices will assist students understand how such companies rose to profitability and declined due to unethical practises. Once students get this type of exposure, it will be left to them to do what they perceive is right. Conversely, not all professional trainings will offer this kind of experience to the employees.

In the wake of corporate crimes such as Enron and WorldCom, Swanson & Frederick (2003) pointed out that failure of business schools to impart ethics in students was the primary reason for such happenings. The authors recommended the need to have a standardized curriculum for business schools globally since most of the executives caught in the scandals were MBA holders from top universities. When the institutions focus on implementing such changes, then there is a promise of churning out morally upright students unless the individual is morally crooked or the organization they work for portrays a dishonest culture.

What does it mean if students have better ethical perception than professional accountants?

According to Costa, Pinheiro & Ribeiro (2016), accounting concerns the preparation and communication of financial and non-financial information to the relevant stakeholders. The profession is challenging and sometimes, professional accountants encounter difficulties in meeting their work demands of ensuring full declaration of an organisation’s financial position. The students and the accountants both assert to the same code of conduct but in some cases, the former may have better ethical perceptions than the latter due to the following reasons:


The Differences in Moral Reasoning

It indicates that the students have a high level of moral reasoning and ethical standards than the accountants. Kohlberg (1969), being the pioneer of the theory of “cognitive moral reasoning and development” established that auditors who depicted high levels of moral reasoning had a higher likelihood of detecting material errors in their assessments. Kerler & Killough (2009) supports this view by indicating that such auditors rely more on their judgment than technical standards to find solutions. Additionally, they are more resistant to client pressure than the ones with poor moral reasoning. Therefore, if students depict such moral strength and standards then they will be able to make the right decisions.

Situational Factors

This narrows down to the factors surrounding decision-making. Situational factors are related to the organisational culture, work environment (the influence of managers and colleagues), opportunities, code of ethics, and the reward systems (Kerler & Killough, 2009). In a firm where accountants are less sensitive to ethical issues, then the decision makes are less likely to follow moral dimensions when resolving dilemmas (Swanson & Frederick, 2003). Conversely, Henry & Dodson (2009) assert that a student who portrays better ethical perceptions than the above-mentioned group of accountants happens to study in an environment that does encourage academic misconduct. Therefore, it is clear indication that cheating in academia can influence the ethical behaviours of the accounting student and an institution that punishes such acts severely will minimise the occurrence on unethical acts.

Increased Ethics Education

Ethics education in higher learning institutions determines the kind of graduates that will emanate from the system. Therefore, it is highly likely that students who portray better ethical perception than professional accountants might have gone through an institution that gives ethics education the level of importance it deserves (Costa, Pinheiro & Ribeiro, 2016). Failure to integrate ethics education in accounting students creates a gap that will continue to professional practice; hence, creating unethical accountants (Swanson & Frederick, 2003). 

Continuing Professional Development for Professional Accountants

Even after accounting students have gone through the intense ethics curriculum, it does not influence their professional attitude. A learner may portray sound ethical standards while at college but this may change after joining the workforce (Appelbaum, Deguire & Mathieu, 2005). As earlier stated, the ethical climate of the organisation has a greater influence on the employees’ ethical conduct. Therefore, a student who depicted high moral behaviour may be affected negatively by the poor culture within the firm as a professional accountant. The culture overrides the professional lessons and responsibilities imparted by the educators. This raises the need to offer continuous professional development courses in ethics for the accountants (Costa, Pinheiro & Ribeiro, 2016).

What is the importance of ethics education for students?

For the past one and half decade, business ethics has been a hotly debated topic. The continuous violation of ethical norms and the increased number of accounting scandals contribute to the need to examine the topic. Business institutions have endured the most for failure to educate effectively and adequately individuals to be morally upright (Gu & Neesham, 2014). Thus, this section focuses on the importance of ethics education for students.

It Imparts Moral Sense in an Individual

According to Felton & Sims (2005), the primary purpose of teaching ethics is to ‘‘develop sensitivity to moral responsibilities, to teach ethical thought and action, and to develop students’ character.’’ Therefore, it is imperative because at the end of the course, students will have understood their core values and their importance to them. The education ensures that the values are internalised and intricately interwoven into the students’ minds so that they influence the decision-making and implementation capabilities. Floyd, Xu, Atkins & Caldwell (2013) supports this view by indicating that mastery of the ethical values is the foundation for ethical decision-making because they define the behaviour of the individual.

It Broadens the Learner’s Understanding of Ethics and its Complexities

The ethics topic is broad and complex. It goes beyond simple determination of a right and wrong as well as abiding to the rule of law. It usually put the person at the centre of conflicting interests among primary stakeholders so often the individual has to settle for an optimal decision and not an ideal one (Gu & Neesham, 2014). For instance, a student may have negative feelings about bribery. However, what position will he take when he has been appointed the manager in a nation that payments are frequently made to clear goods at the customs?  He has a daughter with significant learning and physical challenges who needs special learning aids and exercise tools absent in the country. The equipment is being held at the border because custom officials want payment before they release. Will he hold on to his values and let the child suffer or will he make the payments required for the customs officials to release the equipment? As indicated, some of these decisions are challenging because they need complex examination to come up with a solution, considering the conflicting stakeholder interests (Felton & Sims, 2005). Ethics therefore teaches students ways of approaching such problems.

Students Get to Understand that Ethics are Embedded in all Spheres of Decision-Making

Ethics is not an abstract subject. A decision made by the manager reflects the values and priorities of the entire organisation (Felton & Sims, 2005). For instance, an automotive firm may establish a manufacturing plant in one of the West Asian states to build vehicles for the local market. To lower operational costs and price of the final product, the company decides not to use safety glass on the cars’ windows. Accidents involving the vehicles take place and the people inside are blinded by pieces of broken glass. In such an incident, the decision to lower operational costs turns out to be an ethical issue since a safety glass could have prevented the blindness (Slocum, Rohlfer & Gonzalez-Canton, 2014). Students learn that the decisions they make in their professional lives impacts the society in a positive of negative way.


Based on the study findings, it can be established that it is important to learn ethics in school. Serious business institutions focus on imparting moral values in students to enable them make the right decisions at all times. Making the right choice in an ethical dilemma is dependent on an individual’s moral reasoning and ethical standards and for those reasons; students may makes better decisions than the professional accountants when encountered with challenging situations. Teaching ethics to students also inculcates moral sense in an individual, the learner gets to understand ethics and its complexities and students learn to make sound decisions at all times.


Appelbaum, S.H., Deguire, K.J. and Mathieu, L. (2005), “The relationship of ethical climate to deviant workplace behaviour”, Corporate Governance, Vol. 5 No. 4, pp. 43-55

Christensen, L. J., Peirce, E., Hartman, L. P., Hoffman, W. M., & Carrier, J. (2007). Ethics, CSR, and sustainability education in the Financial Times top 50 global business schools: Baseline data and future research directions. Journal of Business Ethics, 73(4), 347-368.

Costa, A. J., Pinheiro, M. M., & Ribeiro, M. S. (2016). Ethical perceptions of accounting students in a Portuguese university: The influence of individual factors and personal traits. Accounting Education, 25(4), 327-348.

Felton, E. L., & Sims, R. R. (2005). Teaching business ethics: Targeted outputs. Journal of Business Ethics, 60(4), 377-391.

Floyd, L. A., Xu, F., Atkins, R., & Caldwell, C. (2013). Ethical outcomes and business ethics: Toward improving business ethics education. Journal of business ethics, 117(4), 753-776.

Gert, B. (2005). Moral arrogance and moral theories. Philosophical issues, 15(1), 368-385.

Gu, J., & Neesham, C. (2014). Moral identity as leverage point in teaching business ethics. Journal of Business Ethics, 124(3), 527-536.

Henry, K., & Dodson, B. (2009). Ethical Education and its Effect on Accounting Fraud. Working Paper. Christopher Newport University.

Kerler, W. A., & Killough, L. N. (2009). The effects of satisfaction with a client’s management during a prior audit engagement, trust, and moral reasoning on auditors’ perceived risk of management fraud. Journal of Business Ethics, 85(2), 109-136.

Kohlberg, L. (1969), “Stage and sequence: the cognitive developmental approach to socialization”, in Goslin, D.A. (Ed.), Handbook of Socialization Theory and Research, Rand McNally, New York, NY, pp. 347-480.

O'Leary, C. (2009). An empirical analysis of the positive impact of ethics teaching on accounting students. Accounting Education: an international journal, 18(4-5), 505-520.

Slocum, A., Rohlfer, S., & Gonzalez-Canton, C. (2014). Teaching business ethics through strategically integrated micro-insertions. Journal of business ethics, 125(1), 45-58.

Swanson, D. L., & Frederick, W. C. (2003). Are business schools silent partners in corporate crime. Journal of Corporate Citizenship, 9(1), 24-27.

August 14, 2023

Education Literature



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