“Whose Ethical University is it Anyway?”: Widening Participation, Student Diversity and the ‘Ethical’ Higher Education Institution

By Jacqueline Stevenson and Marie-Odile Leconte.

Published by The Diversity Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Our case study university’s stated aim is to be ‘a healthy, ethical, environmentally-friendly and sustainable community which values well-being, diversity…’ and ‘a university whose members…value belonging to this community and sharing a sense of identity’. However, the notion of what it means to be ‘ethical’ has not always been made explicit and there is, perhaps, an assumption that all individuals and groups understand ethics in the same way. Since educational institutions are microcosms of an increasingly diverse culture and the society that supports them, ‘claims to universal principles can easily be a mask to excuse one particular group imposing their ethics on another’ (Strain, 2005) whilst a set of universal ethical principles that is no particular people’s principles is not a set of principles at all (MacIntyre 1981). Our paper presents findings from research with students and staff, in a highly culturally diverse university with large numbers of ‘home’ students from minority ethnic groups and low socio-economic backgrounds as well as international students from over 115 countries as geographically and culturally divided as Norway, India, China and Australia. Our research explored common understandings of ethics, ethical principles and ethical behaviour and the knowledge, awareness, dispositions, and skills that it was expected that staff and students should develop - to enable them to behave ethically within the institution, develop as ethical researchers and understand and apply notions of professional ethics. Whilst there were commonalities across groups we also found significant variations between staff and students and across social and cultural groups. These differences not only challenge the notion of a consensual ethical identity but have left us wondering “whose ethical university is it anyway?”

Keywords: Widening Participation, Student Diversity, Ethics, Higher Education

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp.103-114. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.184MB).

Jacqueline Stevenson

Principal Research Fellow (Widening Participation and Retention), Centre for Research into Higher Education, Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK

Jacqueline Stevenson is a Principal Researcher in Widening Participation. Much of her recent work has centred on issues around race, ethnicity and social class in relation to access to higher education and educational achievement. She has researched extensively with refugees and asylum seekers, members of ethnic minority communities, offenders and ex-offenders, young people leaving public care, those who are long-term unemployed, substance misusers and people who are homeless. Her research is primarily qualitative in focus and she has a particular interest in narrative research including story-telling and narrative inquiry and in research ethics. She is Chair of the International Faculty Research Ethics Committee and sits on the University Research Ethics Sub-committee. Jacqueline is currently studying for a Doctorate in Education researching the social and educational experiences of students from ‘religious’ backgrounds.

Dr. Marie-Odile Leconte

Associate Dean (Staff and the Learning Environment), Carnegie Faculty of Sport and Education, Leeds Metropolitan University, Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK


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