“Everybody cheats the system when they can”

Maxim: young people have no morals

05-11-2009

The ethics of today’s young people are declining. This is the conclusion of a study conducted a few weeks ago by global accountancy firm KPMG. As a recent example, the food-delivery service Just-Eat suffered a loss of €30,000 after students discovered a loophole in the money-transfer system IDEAL, which turned out to be an ideal way to save some money by replacing the actual amount to be paid with €0.01. A great opportunity for a limited budget, but are the students of today really immune to a good moral foundation?

Professor Harry Hummels disagrees with the maxim. He coordinates the course Ethics, Organisation and Society at the School of Business and Economics, and knows first hand about the status of students’ moral understanding. When teaching his course, he stresses the students’ critical thinking abilities. “The term moral education has a rather negative connotation, often implying a pointing finger. You can’t just tell them what’s right and wrong, you need to argue with them; they need to develop their moral framework.” The problem he sees with the case of Just-Eat is that “the distance between the students and the victim was too large; they couldn’t see the consequences of their actions”. One suggestion he offers, however, is to “help students to be good – don’t give them the opportunity to act immorally.”

But if everything is made cheat-proof, wonders Jos Henson, is there any point in teaching and discussing ethical behaviour? Henson is a former exchange student at Maastricht University who now attends law school in London. He believes that “you can’t simply make immoral behaviour impossible. However, you need to take away people’s desire or need to cheat before they even see the opportunity.” In his opinion, this happens by instilling good morals in them without merely teaching them the rules of social conduct. Henson, like Hummels, sees the opportunity in the Problem-Based Learning system. “Peer pressure is a valuable tool, and the PBL system can use it effectively, not only in educating students about skills, but also about character.” Furthermore, he stresses the value of discussions about ethical dilemmas and specific case studies that can give students the opportunity to solve these issues of their own accord, developing a stronger set of ethics. Both Henson and Hummels see the window of opportunity for the university in this task.

On a completely different note, UCM student Thomas Luijken does not understand what all the fuss is about. “Everybody cheats the system when they can: CEOs, who can’t get enough, lawyers who cheat on their taxes, and yes, also students.” He does not believe, however, that there has been a decline in character and ethics. Luijken thinks that it is all about the opportunities you have. “I hope that when I’m no longer a student, I still have the drive to challenge the system.”

 

Janina Weser

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