Teaching Business Ethics Through Sportsmanship

Dr Tom Vine presented at the Ensors sponsored Quay To Growth Business Breakfast at the University of Suffolk on Thursday 2 March. He discussed some new research taking place in the Suffolk Business School, on teaching Business Ethics using the principles of sportsmanship:

Business Ethics is traditionally taught through philosophy, and is often driven by the same key, Western philosophers: Kant, Aristotle, Marx, Nietzsche, to name a few. The biased is on abstract philosopher, and irrespective of the level of study (undergraduate or postgraduate), teaching falls back on a classical philosophical framework.

But here we have a problem – business students have not enrolled on a philosophy degree, and they can struggle with the material. Students may recognise that there is value to the reading and engagement with the module, but they are often looking for practical nuggets that will help them in their future careers – how can they be a better business person?

Here at the Suffolk Business School, we decided to start exploring alternatives to this traditional method of teaching, and have realised that we can supplement this with a different perspective – the idea of sportsmanship. Solomon (2004) even argues that good sportsmanship and fair play are essential obligations to business ethics, although he makes this statement free from further research or investigation. We decided to delve deeper, to take advantage of the connections between sportsmanship and businessmanship in a pedagogical sense.

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We know that there is a language of sportsmanship in business – considering the ‘ballcourt figure’, or to ‘get the ball rolling’. We ‘keep our eye on the ball’, or we have to ‘take it on the chin’. Clients ‘move the goalposts’, and competitors ‘play hardball’. Where has this linguistic connection between sports and business come from?

As in sports, there are competitors in business; there are rules by which we must play and conduct business; there are parallels in respect to betrayal. There is an sense of ‘fair play’ and behaviour that is driven by a moral reasoning.

So why do we think this approach works? Well, we know that sport has wide appeal – there is an already well established cultural understanding of what it means to be a good sportsman, even if a student does not follow a particular sport or team avidly. This allows our students to engage immediately, with something they can relate to on a fundamental level. Sportsmanship is learned at an early age – unlike philosophy. It is also inherently personal – learning of sportsmanship is experiential, much like how it is to be a good business person. These things make learning business ethics through sportsmanship intellectually accessible to students, who perhaps did not realise they would be embarking on philosophy as part of their business degree.

This is part of an ongoing research project by Dr Tom Vine and Dr Will Thomas. If you are interested in this research, please contact talkbusiness@uos.ac.uk

Creating #SBSCareerReady Graduates

By David Collins, Suffolk Business School

Those who read this blog (and I would like to thank both of you most sincerely) and the more observant among our twitter followers may have noticed that we have changed our ‘hashtag’. We no longer speak of our graduates as being ‘business ready’. Instead we have chosen to highlight their career readiness. I think it might be useful to elaborate upon this development…

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In common with all other British universities the University of Suffolk is expected to demonstrate a commitment to ‘employability’. Our previous reference to the preparation of ‘business ready’ graduates was an attempt to signal our commitment to this agenda. Yet while the term was not inaccurate as a statement of practice and intent, it was nonetheless potentially misleading. You see, while our students and graduates are plainly employable – many have held important roles prior to enrolment and a significant number continue to hold down responsible jobs even while studying full-time – they do not just work for ‘business organizations’. Hospitals, schools, charities and councils (to name just a few (non)business organizations) all build and depend upon the skills that our graduates have developed and can demonstrate. So to suggest that we – as Suffolk Business School – produce just ‘business ready’ graduates is to under-estimate our reach and our broader contribution to society. Our new ‘career-ready’ graduate ‘hashtag’ (#SBSCareerReady) therefore alters our promise to our students and to the families and communities that, in a number of important ways, nurture and depend upon them.

So what does being #SBSCareerReady signal? It’s simple really. We are changing what we do. We will build upon our existing good practices to provide the practical and intellectual challenges that will allow you to be, on graduation, not just employable but ready to embark upon a career.

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And why does this matter? It matters because careers are transformational. Our career-ready graduates will not just possess a degree certificate. They will hold, instead, the golden ticket to an enriching, life-long and life-changing project.

What will this life-changing project entail? Good question. I fully intend to return to this in a later post. Until then I will simply conclude with the suggestion that this is not something I can do to you. No, being career-ready is a process that we will achieve only if we work together!

To find out more about becoming Career Ready with the Suffolk Business School, see our list of courses here.

#SBSStudents: Suffolk Business School Helping to Improve Financial Literacy

By Dr Atul K. Shah

Finance today is a complex arena, and sadly there have been far too many experiences of fraud and deception such that a majority of ordinary people are fearful and have lost trust in experts like bankers, lawyers and accountants. Here at the Suffolk Business School, we have been very concerned about the ethics of finance education, and have always tried to help our student experience by organising field trips and inviting visiting speakers. Here are some examples:

We took the initiative to contact Ipswich Citizens Advice Bureau to help our students to understand the kinds of finance challenges people faced, and how the CAB tries to advise and support. We were welcomed by their Deputy Manager, Nelleke van Helfteren. They ran a workshop for the students explaining the services they provide, how they help people with a range of problems, debt being the most common, and she also ran some interactive quizzes for them. The whole visit was a huge eye-opener, as modern finance textbooks used in business schools say nothing about personal finance and the huge problems of financial fraud and financial illiteracy. By default, they prove that the lives of the ordinary and the marginal are irrelevant for the study of ‘high finance’ – the highly technical, complex and fraudulent variety which sadly prevails today.

Two of our students, Kameliya Yankov and Teodor Georgiev were so impressed that they have applied to be volunteers at the CAB. We are following up the visit by setting a class assignment for them to reflect on the experience and what they learnt from it.

Here is what Nelleke van Helfteren, Deputy Manager of the Ipswich CAB said to me:

“It was such a delight to meet your students and I found it very stimulating to look at our service through the eyes of Finance and Accounting students and to paint a picture of what money means to many of our clients. It is so important for people working in the financial sector to understand how our personal finances feed into so many aspects of our lives – health, relationships, housing, employment to name but a few. The evidence that we gather in the course of our advice work demonstrates this very clearly.

It would be great to meet you and talk about how we can work together in the future to ensure your students at many levels are well-educated in the impact of finance on individuals going about their everyday lives.”

We were very impressed by the service the Ipswich CAB provides free of charge, and the quality of their training and management. They also seemed very cost-efficient, proving that businesses are not the only efficient organisations on the planet – in fact charities can be even more efficient. Above all, we found their ‘holistic’ approach, which tries to engage with the whole person, very synonymous with our approach to finance education here. Like them, we too respect the students as whole beings.