Students need to understand regulations



Education: Students need to understand the importance of effective regulations, appropriate rules and ethical frameworks, writes ANTO KERINS 

IN THE SEARCH for solutions to our economic difficulties, a common recommendation is that we should improve our knowledge, innovation, technology and skills in order to recover.

However, the economic meltdown was more than a technical event – it was a human event, involving a whole range of decisions. These decisions provided the opportunity for caution, sound judgment, responsibility and honesty. But they also provided the opportunity for the opposite.

Many of the inadvisable, reckless or dishonest decisions made in the higher echelons of the property and banking sectors were made by, or with the agreement of, people with high-quality degrees.

Ireland’s meltdown could be attributed to a number of factors, and although higher education has not been mentioned, it is worth considering.

The Hunt Report on higher education makes no reference to the need to provide students with an appreciation of such things as ethical behaviour in work, regulatory frameworks and corporate responsibility.

Corporate crime can inflict far more damage on society than street crime. Now we can go one stage further and say that corporate misjudgments and irresponsibility have put one small country under the close care and attention of the IMF, European Commission and European Central Bank.

Hunt’s emphasis on knowledge, innovation, skills and technology are to be commended. However, even if we improve these things and recover economically, there is nothing to stop us falling down again.

In most of the world’s advanced countries of the world, higher education focuses on knowledge. All except two of the top 15 North American universities refer to knowledge in their mission statements, without making any substantive reference to values or ethics. The top 15 in Europe are the same. In addition, Germany, the UK and France have each embarked on modernising their higher education systems – so Hunt’s emphasis is in line with the general order of things. However, there is more to this than meets the eye.

The former director general of Unesco has noted that some of the pilots who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks were university graduates and said: “Knowledge by itself . . . is not enough – many terrorists, after all, are educated.”

Knowledge, technique, skills and innovation alone are inadequate. If we provide these things without some sense of value, we offer a stunted learning experience. Ignoring value and responsibility does students a disservice.

How might ethical and regulatory concerns impact on higher education? First, universities could integrate them into their mission statements. Then they could consider how best to implement such statements. For example, universities could require every programme to include a module on the nature and importance of regulatory and ethical frameworks for the survival and wellbeing of work organisations.

In addition, business, management and related disciplines could include more effective regulatory and business ethics material in their curricula.

Most business schools teach very little on the topic of ethics, and some are adverse to it. One economist said “we are here to teach science”, and another asked: “Whose ethics, what values, are we going to teach?”

However, everything we teach has implicit value. Knowledge does not exist in a vacuum, and providing one type of knowledge over another is itself a value statement.

A lot of people talk about the knowledge economy. This is undoubtedly important, and the more advanced and effective the knowledge, the better. Nevertheless, values and ethics are important to help us filter and interpret knowledge and proper regulatory frameworks and protocols will help safeguard our advanced organisations.

What is the benefit of being able to produce thousands of advanced products without a substantive interest in their value and safety and without a regulatory and value framework that enables us to benefit from their proper use?

Students need to understand the importance of effective regulations, appropriate rules and ethical frameworks to guide organisational behaviour.

From producing graduates who absorbed the mantra of deregulation and light-touch rules, we must now imbue them with an appreciation of the importance of ethical and regulatory frameworks and the ability to distinguish between rules that keep us safe, solvent and effective – and those that just take up time.

Although higher education may be uncomfortable with looking closely at these values and the related regulatory frameworks, we ignore them at our peril, as Ireland recently discovered.

We should follow the Hunt Report by developing a strategy to help us incorporate these activities into higher education. This will ensure our graduates have not just the knowledge, skills and innovative capacity to do their job, but also the knowledge of and enthusiasm for regulatory frameworks, corporate responsibility and ethical behaviour that will help keep our organisations safe and effective.

Anto Kerins is a lecturer in Dublin Institute of Technology and author of An Adventure in Service-Learning: Developing Knowledge, Values and Responsibility 

The Irish Times – Friday, January 28, 2011

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