‘Higher-Education should instil social consciousness’

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By Education Today

Posted on April 6, 2022


9 min read

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Higher-Education should instil social consciousness

Muskan Vinod, MBA Class of 2021, Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai
Dr K Rajeshwari, Sr Associate Professor, Marketing, Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai

An individual’s fundamental values and ethics get established at a fairly young age. Just like when many school students participate in school fares or bake sale as junior business tycoons. While these decisions are not important for any stakeholders or corporations at that point of time, they are learning invaluable business lessons through these that will influence their lifelong decision-making skills.  Similarly, it is also important to make them socially responsible leaders, treating everyone equally and practising business with honesty, integrity and ethics.

The corporate world has the potential to make business leaders become ‘greedy’ and they could encourage unethical behaviour and malpractices. These practices are largely an outcome of false justifications and any means whatsoever to win the rate race prevailing in the society. Be it companies influencing their credit ratings or automobile organisations lying about the emissions level testing or various other instances-  these reinforce the need for ethical education and social consciousness in future business leaders .

The employees of the furniture company Wayfair, protested against the company’s furniture deal to migrant camps (BCFS). More than 500 employees sent a letter to Wayfair’s senior management to stop doing business with BCFS. Later, they walked out of the Boston headquarters and spent half a day in Copley square for protest. The irony was that the employees generally liked the workplace and their jobs. They objected only to the deal and felt it wasn’t socially responsible of the organisation. One of the workers told CBS, “A lot of people decided this issue was more important than the possibility of losing their job.” This is an example of how organisations can encourage dissent.

Generational shift

With the increasing usage of internet, today’s youth is well informed about world issues and how people around the world are affected. Students’ mindsets are evolving and particularly millennials are serious towards their social responsibilities and ethics.

According to the survey conducted of 1699 respondents by Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Australia and United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Management Education (PRME) ‘Students exhibited positive CSR attitudes, with a heightened focus on acting ethically and a diminished focus on financial considerations’.  A report by Ernst and Young on Generation Z revealed that, ‘the younger people placed a greater emphasis on their role in the world as part of a larger ecosystem and their responsibility to help improve it’.

Teaching ethical behaviour

It is undoubtedly true that educational system plays an important role in the globalized world. Their role is indispensable because they aim to create an individual with knowledge, skills and give a perception of the multicultural world.

Therefore, it is important for educational institutions to further encourage this behaviour and recognize the shifting priorities of students to positively impact the world. Universities and educational institutions’ role are not just providing technical knowledge and preparing students for a professional career, but it should also contribute to overall personal development.

There are some strong reasons why ethics should be taught:

  • Faulty rationalization

Sometimes, unethical decisions emerge from people telling themselves that such behaviour is not in fact, bad. In a lot of cases, these rationalizations come from very poor reasoning, which if made explicit, will clearly be untenable. Ethical discussions prepare students for such situations to handle external pressure and understand the danger of faulty rationalization.

  • Conflict of interest

Not everyone shares the same views on ethical dilemmas and social responsibilities. Discussions in classrooms will expose them to opposing opinions and provide an opportunity to learn about the reasons for these differences.  If students are confident enough to speak their opinions in such discussions, they will find it easier to speak up about any injustice at their workplace in the future.

  • Critical thinking

Introduction of ethical scenarios will help students learn the complex nature of ethics and how often it’s very difficult to differentiate between what’s right and wrong. By theoretical articles and readings on business ethics, “Students who study such first-rate reasoning in the classroom stand a better chance of being able to engage in solid ethical reasoning in the workplace. A further benefit of exposure to scholarly articles is that such articles tend to be relatively high-minded: they call on readers to think carefully about ethics, and to take the ideas of moral obligation seriously.”- Chris MacDonald, Canadian Business

  • Corporate ready

Hiring organizations regard ethical decision making and critical thinking as top attributes required among graduates. Learning ethics will also instil send of fairness in dealings that will be constructive for the long term welfare of the organisation.

Business schools have a high responsibility on this front- because they are preparing future managers and c-suite executives, who will decide the future of industries and employees. Through the prism of well-conceived and implemented curriculum on social responsibility, students will be able to take personal and professional decisions ethically in the future and grow into reflective members of society. This can be done through various case discussions and debates where their opinions are heard and they learn the difference of doing what’s right not only for their business but also the society and the larger world. It raises awareness about the importance of good decision making and what impacts it will create and simulates the realities that will eventually occur in the career of these students.

Social entrepreneurship

With the right ethical education, and motivation to take up social initiatives, students can aspire to become social entrepreneurs. They might pursue business for greater social good and not just for the profits. This enhances the link between work and purpose and align people’s efforts with their values. Social entrepreneurship matters because it not only creates socially responsible leaders but also sustainable solutions to global social issues.

Social leadership facilitators

Top universities and business schools have made an effort to bring ethics and social leadership in the curriculum by the way of workshops, subjects, case studies, competitions etc. Even accrediting bodies of business schools promote ethics education and some have made it compulsory.

MBA graduates from Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania are required to take either Responsibility in Business or Responsibility in Global Management that explores students’ concepts and their meaning of responsible leadership through group projects, simulations and discussions that help them reflect their own values.

Some ways of teaching social leadership by educational institutions:

Case studies:

Business schools have long used case studies to illustrate real life business challenges and situations for discussions about leadership and decision making. Similarly, using case studies, ethical dilemmas that managers and business executives can be brought up for discussion. Through these discussions, students will be future-ready for these kinds pf situations they might face later in their career.

Social Initiatives:

As discussed above, social initiatives like upliftment of a village or teaching underprivileged kids, will not only benefit the society but also help students in applying theoretical concepts in reality and give them a chance to lead. It will also create a sense of gratitude among them and empathy for the underprivileged. These initiatives create a long-lasting impact of satisfaction and joy of giving back to the society.

Reflection papers:

Self-assessment of an individual can be best done when they are studying, because that’s the time they develop themselves and are open to learning. Through reflection papers, they can look back at what they did wrong and how can they improve certain aspects of them. Also, they can act as an ethical compass to navigate the dilemmas and challenges of the future.


 Integration of social responsibility weaved in the curriculum will make students follow a pedagogical approach taking them from basics to the real-life challenges, which can be more effective.


Working in teams, students replicate challenges in the simulation where they evaluate their values and come to a conclusion. These scenarios will put students in the shoes of people making choices not only for their professional but also personal life. Simulations encourage students to fearlessly apply the concepts they learnt without any risk.

Social leaders:

Guest lectures can be organized with industry leaders who also are ethical and talk about their challenges. They can talk about their own experiences with social responsibilities and why they are of immense importance.

Karma Yoga, a leadership experiential action program for MBA students at Great Lakes Institute of Management, Chennai, gives them an edge  by teaching them social consciousness while doing business.  The program has adopted 24 villages in Tamil Nadu. It aims to empower the villagers and enhance their self-efficacy. Students try to step into the villagers’ shoes and get an understanding of what changes can be brought about, to make their lives better. Various initiatives are undertaken by students such as organizing health camps, activity-based learning, creating awareness of social issues etc., which creates a positive impact to the lives of villagers.

I personally benefited immensely through this program, I could apply many management lessons in real life situations that help understand my own leadership qualities. The goal was to make the villagers independent and make them learn something relevant every time we visited. Mobile literacy, importance of financial planning, daily expense accounting, regular health checks and children’s primary education- are a few aspects that we deal with. The sheer joy we get when we see children waiting for us every week, with smiles on their faces, is an unparalleled experience. Karma Yoga not only makes us create an impact in the ecosystem, but also instils a sense of humility and appreciation towards the rural life and their challenges, and an immense gratitude for how privileged we are.


The purpose of ethical education is to enable people to take the ‘right ‘decisions out of free will, without any policing. They already know the rules and norms, but social education makes students appreciate how their decisions have positive and negative implications for various stakeholders. Also, it makes them aware that there are social expectations from them. Moreover, the sheer acknowledgement of how there is a need to ask how and why these ethical decisions are made, during discussions, encourages additional personality growth. As Aristotle says, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”