Ethics may be defined as ' the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular group or institution'*. All spheres of University life and activities have the potential to raise ethical concerns; from learning, teaching and research to enterprise/commercial activity, financial transactions, student recruitment, staff-student relationships, membership of and behaviour in an academic community, alumni relations, donations, and award of honours. The Framework is not intended to address or anticipate all potential ethical dilemmas. It is intended to guide members of the University in how to act properly with impartiality, integrity, good conscience and judgement at all times. It provides information about where individuals facing ethical dilemmas can seek further assistance and more detailed guidance in relation to particular spheres of activity. The Framework is designed to become part of the way we operate as a University and to provide support and guidance to staff, students, members of our governing body and other stake-holders in their consideration of ethical issues arising from University activities.
As a public body, the University expects all its members (individually and collectively), its collaborative partners and those providing a service to Aston to be committed to upholding The Principles of Public Life (originally published by the Nolan Committee: The Committee on Standards in Public Life)**. These principles are Selflessness, Integrity, Objectivity, Accountability, Openness, Honesty and Leadership.
Aston’s culture and values enable all staff to work together towards our common mission - the success of the University is a shared priority. The Executive Team are expected to lead change and to enable staff to fulfil their responsibilities and realise their potential. Aston’s culture is built on six key values - trust, empowerment, engagement, innovation, ambition, and learning and scholarship. The dedication, talent and drive of Aston’s people underpin Aston’s future.
Our aim is to create a dynamic, inspiring and challenging culture, which supports innovation and creativity, where the work of individuals and teams is recognised and rewarded, where diversity is celebrated, and where we can excel within an environment of change, ambiguity and uncertainty. Achieving this aim is set within the context of our organisational values and the following ethical principles:
We strive to be a socially responsible organisation with high ethical standards and a tolerant, liberal, open-minded community.
We expect our staff, students, governors and partners to adopt the highest standards of professional integrity, giving appropriate consideration to the ethical, social and environmental implications of all our activities.
Maintaining integrity and high standards is of central importance to the University’s commitment to research, and it is the responsibility of all members of the University’s research community to maintain professional standards by questioning their own findings, recording their results truthfully, and attributing the contribution of others honestly.
We expect that all our decision-making processes and activities will be informed by proper consideration of their ethical, social and environmental impacts.
We expect all staff, students and governors to act according to our ethical values and principles. Unethical practice of any sort will not be tolerated.
As stated earlier, it is impossible to anticipate all situations. Members of the University facing an ethical dilemma are encouraged to reflect on the following questions:
Is this within the law?
Is this fair and equitable?
Who will be affected by these actions?
Whose interests are being served here?
Who benefits from this?
Am I acting with integrity?
How acceptable is this for a member of a University?
How will it look in the press?
Aston has developed this framework to provide more detailed advice and guidance on ethical issues that arise in all aspects of University work and life, and on what to do and who to approach if a member of the University is facing an ethical dilemma or suspects someone of breaching the University’s ethical principles. Individual members of the University are often the first to know when there is financial or academic malpractice or when other significant departures from agreed procedures for the good governance of the institution occur. Malpractice is viewed very seriously by the University, and needs the co-operation of members of the University to combat it effectively.
Aston has a Speak Up Policy to ensure that members of the University feel able to raise any concerns. Members of the University have a duty to Speak Up promptly if they have any reason to suspect that there has been a breach or potential breach of the University’s ethical principles or any other misconduct. All concerns will be treated sensitively and where possible in the strictest confidence. Aston will ensure that members of the University raising issues of malpractice are not subject to disciplinary sanctions, victimisation, or other penalties for doing so. By coming forward and raising concerns they are doing the right thing and helping to make Aston a stronger and more effective organisation.
Various channels exist through which members of the University can raise ethical concerns or seek advice, for example:
However, occasionally, a member of the University may feel that it is not appropriate in the particular case to use these normal channels or may feel that his/her position in the University may be compromised, by raising particular concerns in this way. In these circumstances, they are encouraged to contact our Independent Listener Service which provides confidential, impartial and friendly assistance to members of the Aston community.
Aston will ensure that its ethical values and principles are adopted and put into practice by all members of the University through its policies, processes and practices, so that it can operate as and embed the culture of an “ethical organisation”. As Verbos et al, (2007) state “The ethical organisational identity reflects and reinforces the living code, integrating ethics within the organization. A written code of ethics becomes a formality as the living code of ethics becomes a way of life”***.
Members of the University have an ambassadorial role in demonstrating to external stake-holders that Aston is an ethical organisation through their words and actions.
This Ethical Framework was produced by the Ethics Sub-Group established by the University Council following consultation with the Aston’s main stakeholder groups and has been approved by the University’s Council. Responsibility for oversight of this framework and issues raised rests with the Chief Operating Officer who will also ensure that it is reviewed annually.
Members of the University wishing to comment on this Framework or needing further information on ethics or governance matters, should contact the Director of Governance either by phone 0121 204 4869 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
*The Institute of Business Ethics and The Council for Industry and Higher Education, ‘Ethics Matters - Managing Ethics in Higher Education’, London.
**First Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, HMSO, 1995
***Verbos, A. K., Gerard, J. A., Forshey, P. R., Harding, C. S. and Miller, J. S. (2007), ‘The positive ethical organization: enacting a living code of ethics and ethical organizational identity,’ Journal of Business Ethics, 76, 17–33.