How do students use their ethical compasses during internship? An empirical study among students of universities of applied sciences

International Journal of Ethics Education 8 (1):211-240 (2023)
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The aim of this empirical study is to understand how bachelor students at universities of applied sciences (UAS) use their ethical compasses during internships. Semi-structured interviews were held with 36 fourth-year bachelor students across four UAS and three different programs in the Netherlands: Initial Teacher Education, Business Services, and Information and Communication Technology. To our knowledge, no studies appear to have investigated and compared students from multiple professional fields, nor identified the dynamics and the sequence of the strategies in the decision-making process that students use when faced with ethical dilemmas during internships. We found that students’ ethical dilemmas stemmed from: mentors’ or managers’ behaviours/requests, colleagues’ behaviours, organisations’ morally questionable incentives, pupils’ home situations, and pupils’ behaviours/personal stories. The majority of students used multiple strategies and first investigated the ethical dilemmas they encountered and then avoided, intervened, delegated responsibilities, or adjusted to their environments. Students’ values played an important role in experiencing an ethical dilemma, however, these values were not always acted upon. We identified that rather students’ beliefs about having influence and/or ownership (or not), personal interest(s) and power relations influenced the way how they used their ethical compasses. Thus, instead of navigating on moral standards (of their profession), students reacted on beliefs which reflected the ways in which they constructed their internship contexts, social relationships and their own (and others) needs. As a result, half of the mentioned dilemmas were resolved in a prudent-strategic manner (e.g., by prioritising personal interests), instead of morally. This indicates that students did not always convert (moral) values into moral action and did not use their ethical compasses in the way UAS aspires. Finally, this study found that the ways in which students used their ethical compasses were strongly influenced by their environments.



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