On Monday, April 26, 2010, Ashesi University College and the University of Cape Coast hosted a conference exploring how to integrate ethical values into higher education. The conference began a national discussion on the importance of ethics in our education system and successful methods for teaching integrity in our schools.
Participants learned from the work of Dan Ariely, Professor of Behavioral Economics at MIT, and Barry Schwartz, Professor of philosophy at Swarthmore College. Speakers at the event included Databank Chairman, Ken Ofori-Atta; CEO of ENO International, Roland Akosah; Ashesi University College President, Dr. Patrick Awuah; University of Cape Coast Ethics Committee Member, Dr. Nelson Buah; Mr. Anis Haffer, Founder of GATE Institute; Mrs. Ellen Hagan, Director of L’aine Services Ltd.
The conference was well attended by leadership from Ghana’s public and private universities. In addition to faculty and administrators, student leaders at the various universities attended and engaged in vigorous discussions about ethical issues at their institutions.
Among the topics discussed were guidelines for teaching moral wisdom; scientific research findings on factors that influence ethical decision making among students; the urgent need for ethics in Ghana’s educational system; and an exam Honor Code which has been introduced at Ashesi University College.
Ashesi’s Honor Code in particular was highlighted by the event moderator, Ben Avle of CitiFM 97.3, because of the recent debate between Ashesi and the National Accreditation Board on this initiative. The Honour Code at Ashesi enjoins students to work with integrity and to hold each other accountable. Students sign a pledge stating that they will act ethically, report their own academic policy violations if and when they occur, and report acts of academic misconduct by their peers.
Student panelist Kwabena Owusu-Adjei reported that the honor code has helped build a culture of honesty on Ashesi University College’s campus. Students who cheat are looked down upon, and are reported to the Ashesi Judicial Committee (AJC). He stated that the honor code allows him and his peers to feel more comfortable holding those who abuse the rules accountable for their actions. Kwabena stated, “Exams are now conducted with more discipline and integrity than they were before 2008, when the Honour System was instituted. Ashesi students are very proud of this fact; it sets us apart in a good way.”
Dr. Esi Ansah, Acting Head of the Department of Business Administration explained that since the institution of the Honour System, Ashesi faculty have taken care to craft exam questions in such a way that it is more difficult for students to cheat without being caught. According to Dr. Ansah,“Ashesi exam questions compel students to think independently and analytically, thereby instilling in them the importance of their own independent, intellectual contributions and the uselessness of copying another’s work.”
However, Dr. Sena Kpeglo of the University of Cape Coast, pointed out the Honor Code system may not be easy for all universities to implement. She stated that ethical practices must start by having good institutional policies which ensure the integrity of procedures such as faculty hiring and student admissions. The challenge of tackling ethics at larger universities is much greater because of the volume of students. Dr Kpeglo declared that faculty and staff must be truly engaged if the system is to be successful.
Dr. Nelson Buah, a member of the University of Cape Coast Ethics Committee, reported that though Cape Coast University does not have specific courses dedicated to ethics, ethics is discussed as part of the coursework in some departments. Also, UCC engages the subject through hall masters in student housing and through engagement with faculty. He agreed that ethics is an important subject that universities should pay attention to if their graduates are to be of benefit to the nation.
Leaders from corporate Ghana, Mr. Ken Ofori-Atta, Databank Chairman, Mr. Roland Akosah, CEO of ENO International and Ellen Hagan, Director of L’aine Services added their voices in support Ashesi’s Honor Code and an increased focus on ethics in higher education. Ken Ofori Atta stated that ethics was one of Databank’s core values and a key factor they looked for when hiring new employees. Mr. Akosah echoed the Databank Chairman’s sentiment, commenting that if Ghana wishes to have an economy that is globally competitive, it must have business people and civil servants that work honestly.
At the closing of the conference, the leadership from several universities pledged their support for an improved focus on ethics at their institutions and their support for Ashesi’s Honour Code system. Zenith University College, Student Representative Council (SRC) member, Emmanuel Holm, stated “I would really like to begin an honor code system at Zenith. We have had some problems with issues of integrity in the past and I think this system could help. I’m sure there will be some resistance from certain people in the school but we can try to convince them to join.”