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Why should higher education teaching professionals be ethical?

How can we expect students to abide by ethical values if their educators are not following them too? Critical thinking is a key skill developed at university. As teaching professionals encourage students to take responsibility for the way they interpret and respond to the world, so they must think critically about the ethical issues within the education system.

Our online course on Ethics in Higher Education for Teaching Professionals gives faculty members the tools to analyze, propose, and apply solutions from different ethical perspectives in their area of study or work.

But for anyone to know how to act ethically, we must first understand the reasons why we should do so. “Why should I be ethical” is the first unit of the EHE-TP course. The answers lie in almost every aspect of university life from intellectual integrity to the fair and respectful treatment of others.

Plagiarism is one of the first issues that comes to mind when we think about ethics in higher education. In fact, the EHE-TP course dedicates an entire unit to it. Acknowledging other people’s ideas, words, and data in our own work supports the integrity of academia and maintains the mutual trust necessary in the exchange of knowledge. It’s just as important for teaching professionals to recognize others’ contributions to their work as for students to do so. Not only does this establish the work’s credibility and authority, but it also places it in the context of a wider intellectual conversation and facilitates further learning by reading more.

Equally important is for faculty members to ensure that the data they are teaching has been researched and gathered ethically. The fabrication and falsification of data, not to mention the manipulation of research due to conflict of interest, interferes with students’ pursuit of knowledge and truth. It discredits the academic community and can lead to yet more ethical dilemmas in terms of biased results that could perpetuate the existing discriminatory power balance.

Respecting ethics in research also covers the treatment of the subjects. For human subjects, that means getting their informed consent and ensuring they’re aware of the nature of the project. It means humane and responsible use and care of animals and any other subjects, and having permission to use archived data. The credibility of their research comes into question when teaching professionals fail to apply ethical principles in their work.

Last but by no means least is the importance of teaching professionals acting to eliminate discrimination and harassment, including sexual harassment, from their higher education institutes. All people (other faculty members, university staff, students, and research subjects) should be safe from harassment, especially in a situation with an authority figure. In this context, as well as traumatizing and objectifying the victim, the possibility of sexual favors being proposed in exchange for some sort of benefit also damages the credibility and authority of that data, piece of work, or job position.

Evaluation of work and opportunities for employment, study, and grants should not have any basis on a person’s race, ethnicity, age, religion, nationality, sexual orientation, disability, or socioeconomic status. By applying ethical values to their actions in the workplace, faculty members can facilitate fair, non-discriminatory treatment of their colleagues and students, and avoid the creation of hostile or uncomfortable environments. In turn, this promotes equality throughout the higher education system and, hopefully, further into the world.

Higher education should be a place of equality, trust, and safety, where everyone works in search of greater knowledge and to create a fairer world. While that might not currently be the reality, we’re optimistic that it can be. For this to be the case, we need to empower teaching professionals to follow ethical values in their work. That’s what we aim to impart with our Ethics in Higher Education for Teaching Professionals course, which was recently benchmarked by UK NARIC/Ecctis.

Register for the course now to learn more about the ethical issues facing universities and take action to uphold the integrity of academia and make higher education fairer and more sustainable.

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