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In my opinion: Memo to Hunt: Higher education must teach ethics

The Hunt report on higher education is an important document. However, it has one major weakness.

While it places much emphasis on factors such as knowledge, innovation, technology and skills, it makes no real reference to values, ethical decision making, regulatory frame- works, corporate responsibility...

Our recent economic collapse was more than a technical event -- it was a human event that arose from unwise and in some cases unethical decisions. When there were opportunities for fairness, caution and duty of care, there was carelessness, irresponsibility, and on occasion downright dishonesty.

The report's main weakness is that it allows higher education's almost exclusive focus on such things as knowledge, innovation, technology and skill to remain unchallenged.

At a time when many of the sharp suits in our failed banking and property sectors and in our inadequate regulatory, political and administrative regimes held high-quality degrees we wonder did we do enough for them. In teaching them to become innovative, technologically proficient and competent in the latest knowledge or method, did we short-change them?

UNESCO's director-general said that some of the pilots who perpetrated the 9/11 atrocity were university graduates and argued that "knowledge by itself . . . is not enough -- many terrorists, after all, are educated".

Hunt is a child of its time -- the early end of the Celtic Tiger. And it is inadequate for today's world. For all its good work, it misses a core weakness in higher education -- the lack of a coherent role in preparing graduates for responsible and ethical behaviour in the workplace.

Nor does it encourage higher education to consider the importance of adequate regulatory and corporate frameworks to keep organisations safe and effective.

Our graduates need an understanding of, and a facility for, effective regulations, appropriate rules and ethical frameworks to guide organisational behaviour so as to ensure the safety and vibrancy of our economy and society.

From producing graduates who absorbed the mantra of deregulation and light-touch rules, we must now imbue them with 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.

While the economic and regulatory wings of Government are now desperately trying to get us out of the hole we are in, it is mainly to education that we look to ensure this crisis never happens again. Although the Government and its agencies are feverishly working to bed down a powerful and effective regulatory regime to keep us afloat, it is to education that we look to encourage the long-term development and sustenance of this framework.

We must now follow Hunt with a short, sharp and focused project to prepare higher education for the new reality.

This will ensure that our graduates have not just the knowledge, skills and technical capacity to do their job, but that they also have the knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, regulatory frameworks, corporate responsibility and ethical behaviour to help ensure we never again have to face into the nightmare of sovereign insolvency.

Anto Kerins is a Senior lecturer in the Dublin Institute of Technology and author of An Adventure in Service-Learning: Developing Knowledge, Values and Responsibility (Gower, 2010)

Irish Independent