Ethics gets short shrift in schools

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Business ethics teaching in British universities and professional bodies is "a hit-and-miss affair", according to research recently released by the Institute of Business Ethics.

The survey, published last week, shows that business ethics is offered on just over half of undergraduate courses and nearly half of post-graduate ones, with institutions expecting it to become more prominent in the future.

However, the report says such figures disguise a much less healthy picture.

The findings suggest that the actual time devoted to business ethics on a typical course averages less than seven hours across the entire length of the course.

Fewer than one third of professions offer any form of ethical component in their formal training and, with a lack of commitment from business schools' management, teaching depends on the enthusiasm of a few individuals.

Moreover, business ethics is seen as a "Cinderella subject" in management schools and professional institutions. There is little or no career structure and there are few professorial chairs. In addition, courses are frequently optional.

"The subject has not caught up with the increasing importance attached to good business behaviour by customers, the media and business people themselves," it adds.

Among the other issues identified is a lack of good case studies involving European and UK companies and that practical business experience is seen as a better background for teaching ethics than academic qualification.

Roderick Chamberlain, the institute's chairman, said: "It's good that this survey confirms that teaching business ethics is increasing in significance in business schools at both under- and postgraduate levels. But there is clearly still a long way to go and a very limited amount of time devoted to so significant a subject.

"Unless there is a greater commitment on the part of academic and professional institutions, future managers will be ill-equipped to respond to the business pressure as well as media and customer interests in good standards of business conduct."