Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Faculty Views on the Teaching of Ethics to Accounting Students: The Zimbabwean Perspective

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Faculty Views on the Teaching of Ethics to Accounting Students: The Zimbabwean Perspective

Article excerpt

Abstract

Corporate scandals have led to renewed calls for ethics education for the accounting profession. One of the oldest university and trainer of accounting students in Zimbabwe for more than three decades introduced a two semester course on ethics for accounting students beginning 2012/13 academic year. Prior to this development a survey was carried out in 2011 to find the preparedness of the accounting faculty to embrace accounting ethics education. Faculty perceived ethics as extremely important in personal, business and accounting education. Respondents considered the development of abilities needed to deal with ethical dilemmas as the most important. Offering ethics as a discrete course was the popular option. Most faculty expressed an interest in teaching ethics topics.

Keywords: ethics education, discrete, integrated, goal, professional affiliation, faculty

1. Introduction and Background

There is no agreement on the need for ethics education for accounting students (Piper, Gentile and Park 1993; McDonald and Donleavy, 1995; Peppas and Diskin, 2001). Corporate scandals such as that at Enron and the fall of Arthur Andersen have led to renewed calls for ethics education for the accounting profession. It is argued that among other things failures by accounting firms and individual accountants contributed to the financial scandals (O'Leary, 2009). The problems are also attributed to a stagnant accounting curriculum that has remained significantly unchanged over the last fifty to sixty years (Russell and Smith, 2003).

Those who blame the accounting profession for the corporate malfeasance see education as a necessary intervention to remedy the situation. Education may enable students to determine what is ethically right or wrong although they may fail to behave ethically due to inability to identify ethical issues (Chan and Leung, 2006). Wright (1995) contends "education is the best means to develop good ethical behaviour in the modern business environment." The International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) came up with a framework for ethics education in the form of IES 4 and the 2006 information paper "Approaches to the Development and Maintenance of Professional Values, Ethics and Attitudes in Accounting Education Programs".

2. Literature Review

As noted above the need for ethics education was reinforced by the financial scandals that rocked the developed world. The scandals among other things resulted in a legislative response in several countries, for example the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (2002) in the United States. Cooper et al (2008:407) argue that during this period (of financial scandals) the "accounting profession [had] arguably lost its way." One of the interventions called for was enriching ethics in accounting education to restore credibility of the accounting profession (McPhail, 2001). Similar comments on ethics education were made by President George Bush as noted below:

"We need men and women of character, who know the difference between ambition and destructive greed, between justified risk and irresponsibility, between enterprise and fraud. Our schools of business must be principled teachers of right and wrong, and not surrender to moral confusion and relativism" (White House Press Release; 2002b).

Even then others doubt the efficacy of ethics education. Rossouw (2002) and Piper et al. (1993) argue that ethics education does not necessarily translate to ethical behaviour. Those against ethics education argue that ethics is learnt in early life a contention that Professor Donald Scheper (2002, letter to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) questions:

"There is an underlying sentiment, I believe, that is dangerous. ... ethics is what we learn at our parents' knees...The ethical education I received at my parents' knees had little to do with the complexities of sweatshop issues, global outsourcing..."

In any case there is growing evidence that social and behavioural skills though partly determined early in life, can be learned and improved upon, through exposure to educational programmes that blend theoretical principles and practice (Rest et al. …

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