Pioneers set ethics at heart of courses

September 30, 2005

Academics at Leeds University are blazing a trail by embedding ethics in all student courses amid a growing national awareness of the need for a more explicit ethical dimension to higher education.

The "Ideas: Inter-Disciplinary Ethics across Subject Disciplines" project at Leeds's Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (Cetl) will build discussions of ethics into 13 disciplines.

Kathryn Dalby, project manager, said: "A lot of our time will be spent embedding this in Leeds, but we are keen to share learning with colleagues across the UK through the Subject Centre Network. It's an exciting thought that we could expand and build on the model in medical ethics and broaden it out to other disciplines."

"Theme teams" of ethicists and subject specialists will help students to integrate the diverse ethical issues in their courses into a coherent ethics theme.

"Ethics will be embedded in every discipline so that all students see the relevance of ethics in the context of their disciplines or professions," Ms Dalby said.

The aim is to equip students to address the increasing public concern about ethical issues in business and professional life. The Cetl will produce booklets on the importance of ethics for students.

Ms Dalby said: "We are also working with key professional bodies to identify their needs for ethics in the curriculum to support their staff."

Cetl staff are negotiating with the business consultancies PricewaterhouseCoopers and KPMG to help teach students the importance of ethics in the workplace.

"With corporate social responsibility being such a key topic, we could in time offer businesses staff training courses on ethics," Ms Dalby said.

The Council for Industry and Higher Education is issuing a set of ethics guidelines next week.

Barbara Blake, who deals with employability and ethics at the council, said: "There's a rising awareness that we need to look more seriously at these issues, and ethics is important. It's one of those issues that has been taken for granted but universities don't have joined-up thinking on ethics."

She said universities assumed their students shared a value system, but an increasingly diverse population meant that assumptions needed to be spelt out.

Chris Megone, who leads the Leeds Cetl, said pressure from professional bodies to introduce ethics in courses was a big factor in making universities more aware of the issue.

Brenda Gourley, the Open University's vice-chancellor, who is looking for a chair for a new ethics centre, said: "It's one of the big issues of our time. We have a crisis and it would be bizarre if universities didn't ask what they could do."

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