Critique for ‘Teaching ethics in accounting and the ethics of accounting teaching

Last Updated: 16 Jun 2020
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Do the authors have the capability to write this thesis?

Yes the authors have the capability to write on this thesis; they have the academic experience to make authoritative claims on accounting education. Gray, et al. (1994) have passed their views across based on extensive research and personal experience. Gray, et al. (1994) won the British Accounting Association Special Interest Group Manuscript Award for writing this paper. Rob Gray the main author of this paper is now a Professor of Social and Environmental Accounting Director of the Centre for Social and Environmental Accounting Research at St Andrews has authored/co-authored over 250 books, monographs, chapters and articles (University of St Andrews School of Management website, 2011).

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Issues raised by Gray, et al. (1994) in ‘Teaching ethics in accounting and the ethics of accounting teaching: educating for immorality and a possible case for social and environmental accounting education’

An issue raised in this paper is that despite the current success of current accounting there is still evidence of ethical and intellectual failure among accounting practitioners (Gray, et al., 1994). The immediate blame is on the accounting educators as they have seen evidence that accounting education fails to develop students’ intellectual and ethical maturity (Gray, et al., 1994). According to Gray, et al. (1994) educators do not seem to understand the consequences of not having ethics as a core content of an accounting degree; hence graduates are not prepared for employment as an accounting trainee. Along with personal experience and evidence they got from (Sterling 1973, Lehman 1988, AECC 1990, Sikka 1987) Gray, et al. (1994) suggests that university teaching practise tends to be dominated by techniques acquisition. The inadequacy of university accounting education according to Gill, (1993) is the reason why graduates are neither practically trained individuals who cannot evaluate reason conceptualize and evaluate hence cannot be immediately used in the office (Gray, et al.,1994).

Methodology: is the methodology used able to make a persuasive case?

I will go through the methodology used by Gray, et al. (1994) also bringing in other academic research that agrees, and others that bring another perspective to the issues addressed. Gray, et al. (1994) looks at educational theory and accounting education and have discovered that accounting educators have paid emphasis to teaching method but accounting literature does not emphasize the learning theory in accounting education. They have looked into the work of Shute (1979) and Ainsworth and Plumlee (1992) where Blooms taxonomy of learning is used to look at accounting education and there is evidence that students are not encouraged to progress the levels of taxonomy and may reinforce lower levels of cognition (Gray, et al., 1994). Their findings suggest that accounting education does not make students reach the highest levels of cognition evaluation which involves making judgements on materials, information and method (Ainsworth and Plumbee, 1992 as cited in Gray, et al., 1994). Gray, et al., (1994) states that ideally accounting education should be at the deep approach/deep-elaborative/transforming/formal-operational but instead it is perceived to be on a low level of Entwiste, et al., (1992) adaptation of learning approaches surface; approach/shallow-reiterative/reproducing/concrete-operational. Gray, et al., (1994) have looked at Kohlberg’s levels of ethical development and discovered with backing including (Rest, 1974, 1987; Rohatyn, 1987) age, gender, childhood, background and years in education are the most favoured determinants of ethical maturity. I have found that some researchers even believe that it is too late to teach ethics at university stage and that ethics education does not necessarily translate to ethical behaviour (Bean and Bernadi, 2007).I have found evidence from Ameen, et al. (1996) who surveyed students in upper-level accounting courses in 4 large public American universities that suggests that female accounting students are more ethically sensitive than their male counterparts. Age and gender is another perspective that should be considered when looking at the future of ethics in accounting education.

Gray, et al. (1994) find evidence that suggests that accounting education is only on the first two levels of Kohlberg’s level of ethical development which is ‘Heteronomous morality’ and ‘Individualism and instrumentalism’. Educators should be questioned as to why accounting education is not reaching the higher levels of Kohlberg’s. Without ethics in the core curriculum it is not likely that accounting education will ever contribute to ethical development or produce what is necessary for deep learning (Gray, et al., 1994).However I have found other measures of ethics in accounting education that Gray, et al. (1994) has not looked at such as the DIT and the Mach IV scale. The Defining Issues Test (DIT) is the primary measure of ethical concern and is in most accounting ethical research (Pope, 2005). Another measure of ethics is the Mach IV it is well-validated but is not commonly used in accounting ethics research (Pope, 2005).

I have found evidence that suggests that accounting academics are less committed to ethics and ethical education is mostly restricted to discussion of professional codes of auditing courses whereas other professions like law and medicine have always had a long tradition of ethics courses (May,1994; Pallegrino, et al., 1990 as cited in Gunz and McCutcheon 1998). McNair and Milam (1993) who did a survey on 202 schools most of which were accredited by AACSB (Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business) found that although majority agreed that ethics should be covered more in accounting education only 8.3% believed it should be taught as a separate course. McNair and Milam (1993) study suggests that accounting education does make ethics significant, with the faculties who already incorporated ethics as part of another course only spending an average of 3.18 hours teaching it. Gray, et al. (1994) find results that reveal that business ethics courses are indeed present in some undergraduate accounting degrees, and is still growing although at a negligible rate. More recent studies form Bernadi and Bean, (2005) even suggest a three-course system for teaching ethics in accounting education including a foundation course, a general business ethics course and a discipline specific course (Bean and Bernadi, 2007).Up until recent times it has been suggested by a number of researchers that the Anglo-American accounting education constrained approach to accounting and business education to maximising shareholders wealth has limited the supposed benefits of add-on courses in business ethics (Ferguson, et al., 2011). It has been suggested that the ethical lapses resulting in the scandals that embarrassed the accounting profession notably the Arthur Anderson and Enron scandal in 2002 may be as a result of students believing that cheating is an acceptable, and perhaps necessary, form of competition (Bean and Bernadi, 2007). I am happy to have found evidence that suggests that post-Enron accounting university students are now more concerned about the corporate ethical structure of the firm they choose to work for (Esmond-Kiger, 2004).

Loeb’s goals of accounting ethics education is used to show how ethics and morality can be educated in accounting education (Gray, et al., 1994). Gray, et al., (1994) introduce three ways without any hierarchy of accessing wrongness or action ‘Cosequentionalism’, ‘Motivism’ and ‘Deontological’. Concentration of the accounting profession lies within Consequentionalism which assesses actions by reference to the utility they generate (Gray, et al., 1994).

Possible Solutions to the issues raised by Gray et al, 1994

Gray, et al., (1994) suggests that the solution of issues they have raised may lie within social and environmental accounting which challenges much of the approach of traditional accounting education. They find that although the solution would be to incorporate ethics in accounting education the focus is also largely inseparable from (1) ethical responsibility of the teacher to seek maximum educational development in the student and (2) the apparent relationship between ethical and educational development (Gray, et al., 1994). I found evidence too that also suggests social and environmental accounting and alternative forms of accounting should be taught more to accounting students with the same level of emphasis as traditional accounting (Mathews, 1997).Students have resistance to social and environmental accounting because they do not find it to be immediately relevant and it is seen to be about ‘what accounting is not’ and ‘what accounting can be’ as opposed to ‘what accounting is’ (Gray, et al., 1994). I have read Webber (1990) who gives evidence that some ACCSB schools have already responded to these challenges by offering business ethics courses and the reason why more business schools may be failing to introduce ethics to their curriculum is because academic literature has failed to evaluate the effectiveness of the courses. Another possible solution to the issues raised by Gray, et al. (1994) that has not been considered in this paper is that there should be more literature that show backed up evidence that ethics in accounting education produces graduates that are more intellectually and ethically capable in their accounting trainee jobs.


Despite the extensive research Gray, et al, (1994) questions are left unanswered and the paper is concluded in an inconclusive way asking more questions to themselves and other accounting educators. After reading this paper and understanding the issues raised and evaluating the possible case for social and environmental education and other views from academic research I have read I have one questions for Gray, et al. (1994): With Professional Accounting Bodies like ACCA having ethics courses as a requirement to become a qualified accountant is it fair to still blame the accounting university education for the ethical and intellectual failures among accounting practitioners?


*Gray, R, Bebbington, J, McPhail, K, 1994 Teaching ethics in accounting and the ethics of accounting teaching: educating for immorality and the possible case for social and environmental accounting’ Accounting Education 3 (1), 51-75

ACCA, 2011 Professional Qualification, Business Ethics Course Description [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 March 2011]

Adkins. N., Radtke, R.R., 2004 Students’ and Faculty Members’ Perceptions of the Importance of Business Ethics and Accounting Ethics Education: Is There an Education GapJournal of Business Ethics 51: 279-300

Ameen, E.C., Guffey, D.M., McMillan, J.J., 1996 Gender Differences in Determining the Ethical sensitivity of Future Accounting Professionals. Journal of Business Ethics 15: 591-597

Bean, D.F., Bernardi R.A., 2007 Ethics Education in our Colleges and Universities: A Positive Role for Accounting Practitioners. Journal of Academic Ethics 5:59–75

Bean, D.F., Bernardi R.A., 2006 Ethics in Accounting Education: The Forgotten Stakeholders. The CPA Journal [online] Available at: [Accessed 12 March 11]

Esmond-Kiger, C, 2004 Making ethics a pervasive component of accounting education. Management Accounting Quarterly [online] Available at:;col1 [Accessed 12 March 2011]

Ferguson, J, Collison, D, Power, D, Stevenson, L, 2011 Accounting Education, Socialisation and the Ethics of Business. Business Ethics: A European Review [e-journal] 20 (1) 12-29 Available through: Wiley online library [Accessed 12 March 2011]

Gunz, S., McCutheon, J., 1998 Are Academics Committed to Accounting Ethics EducationJournal of Business Ethics 17: 1145-115

McNair, F., Milam, E.E., 1993 Ethics in Accounting Education: What is Really Being Done. Journal of Business Ethics 12: 797-80

McPhail, K, 2001 The Other Objective of Ethics Education: Rehumanising the Accounting Profession. A Study of Ethics Education in Law, Engineering, Medicine & Accountancy. Journal of Business Ethics 34: 279-29

Mathews, M.R., (1997) “Twenty-five years of social and environmental accounting research: Is there a silver jubilee to celebrate?” Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 10 (4), 481-531

Pope, K.L., 2005 Measuring The Ethical Propensities Of Accounting Students: Mach IV Versus DIT. Journal of Academic Ethics (2005) 3: 89-111

University of St Andrews Management School 2011 [online] Available at: [Accessed: 12 March 2011]

Weber, J, 1990 Measuring the Impact of Teaching Ethics to Future Managers: A Review, Assessment, and Recommendations. Journal of Business Ethics 9: 183-190

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