Being a trainee accountant isn't just work, work, work. They spend a night in jail, too

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The Independent Online

The imposing gates of Scotland's most notorious prison have been opened to a new class of inmate in a novel operation designed to teach business ethics.

The imposing gates of Scotland's most notorious prison have been opened to a new class of inmate in a novel operation designed to teach business ethics.

In the name of deterrence, trainee accountants are being invited to swap their business suits for prison uniform for a short taste of porridge in Barlinnie jail. The message from the authorities is clear: Commit fraud and this is where you will end up - doing time with murderers and rapists.

Fortunately for the incarcerated, the "authorities" in this case are Glasgow University's accountancy department, bidding to instil a sense of ethics in the next generation of corporate number crunchers.

As part of Britain's first degree course dedicated to ethics for accountants, a lecturer at the university has decided a short, sharp shock is the way to highlight the risks of white-collar crime.

Dr Ken McPhail led the first of three groups of volunteers into the reception suite at HMP Barlinnie in east Glasgow to show there is another side to spreadsheets and audits.

He said: "We want to get away from the dry, abstract theories and show the reality of ethical dilemmas - how what these students do in their working lives can impact on them and others.

"Barlinnie is where most people convicted of a crime in Glasgow spend their first night and it is a scary place. The idea is to make the link between business practice and the lives of real people."

The students will be examined by a nurse to assess whether they are suicidal, and those who are willing will be locked in a suicide watch cell on the remand wing. Mercifully the taste of life inside will be a good deal shorter than the sentences metered out to financial fraudsters. But meetings with prisoners are designed to show how the decisions they make in the office, perhaps ordering a factory closure, could lead to a spiral into hardship and crime for those they make redundant.

The prison visits, agreed by the Scottish Prison Service, are part of a 10-week course for final year students which includes case studies into arch financial fraudsters such as Nick Leeson and the newspaper magnate Robert Maxwell.

A role-playing exercise is based on a meeting between the Mirror Group pensioners and Maxwell, who drowned after falling off his yacht as the scandal broke.

Students are addressed by a number of guest lecturers including a victim of Thalidomide, the anti-morning sickness drug which was marketed worldwide before being found to cause birth deformities.

Dr McPhail said he drew up the course after realising that the moral aspects of business were often being ignored. He said: "The next generations of accountants need to be more aware of the ramifications of their decisions. It is not about villainising business but making our teaching more relevant to real life."

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