Date: 24 Dec 2013

Investigation of the Impact of an Ethical Framework and an Integrated Ethics Education on Accounting Students’ Ethical Sensitivity and Judgment

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Abstract

This research is motivated by the criticism levelled at the academic community for its failure to incorporate sufficient ethics education into the accounting curriculum (Earley and Kelly, Issues in Accounting Education 19(1):53–71, 2004; Madison and Schmidt 2006). The inclusion of ethics decision-making frameworks (frameworks) by professional bodies in their codes of conduct (IFAC 2012; APESB 2010) or as a standalone tool (AICPA 2012) and the encouragement of their use as a part of ethics education to help students to identify (ethical sensitivity) and think through ethical issues (ethical judgment) in a business context (AACSB 2004) has been subject to very limited research to date. The aim of this study is to provide evidence of the impact of providing a framework on its own and providing a framework as part of a comprehensive integrated ethics education component of a first-year unit of study, on accounting students’ ethical sensitivity and judgment. Results indicate that providing students with a framework only does not increase students’ ethical sensitivity but does support their ethical judgment. In contrast, the integrated ethics component does increase student’s ethical sensitivity, however, an unexpected finding of this study is that increases in students’ ethical judgement are greater if they have not been previously exposed to the framework. Taken together, our findings suggest that it is the framework that has a significant impact on students’ ethical judgment, while an integrated ethics education can expose students to a range of ethical issues and thereby improve their ethical sensitivity, a critical component which initiates the ethical decision-making process.