Ethics and Social Responsibility Policies and Codes: Loughborough College, the University of Exeter and HEFCE

It’s great to find useful examples of something you are working towards. I have come across a college code of ethics (Loughborough College), a university ethics policy (University of Exeter) and a Corporate Social Responsibility Policy (CSR) from HEFCE. I must thank the Association of Colleges, who did work on ethics several years ago and alerted me to the Loughborough code.

After visiting quite a lot of university and college websites, I can report that organisational ethics policies and codes are rare in my experience to date, perhaps because the policies are sometimes  fragmented across different areas of college and university activity. According to Ethics Matters – Managing Ethical Issues in Higher Education , a survey indicated that HEIs had a lack of common discourse on ethics in HE, fragmentation across different documents, inconsistency between policies, codes, guildelines etc, an overwhelming focus on research ethics and varying amounts of consultation and accountability (see Appendix 1). So its no surprise that good examples seem to be thin on the ground.

What follows is a short analysis of these three policies, to help me with my interview and review process at Bradford College.

Initial statements
Loughborough begins by explaining the remit and limitations of its Code. It says it is important to develop values. The Code does not say what those values are other than that they should conform with the Nolan principles. It is therefore predominantly setting out intentions and core concepts rather than describing existing policy and process. (It was drawn up in 2003, so it is reasonable to suppose that more is now in place.)

The Exeter policy begins with a strong statement of ethical value and vision, stating that these values apply across all spheres of University activity. It references the BIS Rigour, Respect and Responsibility values set out in the universal ethical code for scientists (it also refers to Nolan in a section on governance). It is apparent that Exeter has established and agreed various principles and working methods, and the policy articulates these along with aims and objectives.

HEFCE starts out by summarising CSR and listing its key stakeholders. It published its first CSR policy in January 2006 – this is its third. It explains where the policy applies and sets out its overall commitment and aim: to embed CSR into everything it does and to be a responsible public body.

Governance
This is an important component of the Exeter policy and Loughborough code. Exeter explains provenance of its ethics policy (which included consultation with stakeholders), accountability and relationship to governance. There is a University Ethics Committee which advises on ethical issues, provides guidelines and raises awareness. It also deals with conflicts of interest. The Loughborough policy places an emphasis on the role of the Corporation (its governing body) and its responsibility for its own Conduct and that of management and staff.

HEFCE’s strategy does not have a section on governance, although the first of its six aims (‘To maintain strong business ethics’) could be seen to encompass governance along with other areas of organisational behaviour. On the HEFCE website there are separate ethical statements relating to the Board .

Key areas covered by the policies
Both Loughborough and Exeter explain the importance of the Student Experience with Loughborough making a commitment to honesty in communications, integrity in all dealings, fair recruitment, quality of learning and support, a charter for students, effective complaints procedures, and confidentiality in line with legal requirements. Exeter covers similar ground, and mentions academic rigour and the role of the Students Guild. It also refers to its dedicated Disability Resource Centre, the role of the Equality and Diversity Manager, and widening participation. Both institutions refer to careers support, with Exeter making wider reference to extra-curricular activities.

Research figures prominently in the Exeter policy, which is appropriate for a university with a high level or research output.  Exeter’s ethics policy has sections on Finance and Sustainability, which are not mirrored by Loughborough. Both however pay attention to External Relationships – being responsive to the wider community and employers, and ensuring ethical standards are adhered to in external contracts. Exeter notes that outside relations should not only be in the public interest, but should also conform with the charitable purposes of the University. Loughborough has a section on Educational Partners which in part addresses its dealings with competitors. Both Exeter and Loughborough have sections on Human Resources/Management and Staff, including academic freedom (Loughborough) and diversity and staff development (Exeter).

HEFCE’s policy is succinct and very clear. It sets out six aims, with an overarching commitment and aim at the beginning of each. These cover business ethics; environmental impact; sustainable development through procurement practices; encouraging staff (active citizenship/high performance/continuous performance); support for the local community (this is charitable fundraising and volunteering by staff) and partnerships to influence the higher education sector. A visit to the website shows that there are individual strategies for some of these areas (for instance sustainable development, people strategy, equality and diversity scheme).

Compliance and reporting
Loughborough  has a section on compliance and verification, stating that mechanisms will be set up  for monitoring adherence and resolving issues. Exeter ends its policy explaining how its Colleges and Professional Services relate to the University Ethics Committee, and the responsibilities of each, including the submission of annual reports on ethical issues from each College and Service to the Ethics Committee.

For each of its six aims, HEFCE sets out how it will demonstrate its progress. The policy ends by detailing implementation and references the HEFCE corporate social responsibility action plan 2010-12. Regular benchmarking and evaluation tak place. Progress is reported three times a year to the HEFCE Executive and Board and is published on the website. A sustainability report is included in the annual accounts, and there is a more detailed annual CSR report. There have also been external reviews, and CSR is included in the internal audit strategy.

Personal reflections
1. I find all three documents very helpful. The Exeter and HEFCE policies have a strong statements relating to implementation and accountability, backed up by publicly available information on their website, and I am very interested to learn more about this. It is one thing to develop a policy, and another to embed it in practice and assess and respond to the outcomes.

2. The Loughborough code is older, and it would be good to know how things have developed. I am very interested in Loughborough’s point 7: ‘In its dealings with individuals, the College will adhere to the principles of Natural Justice’.  Turning to Wikipedia, ‘There are two rules that natural justice is concerned with. These are the rule against bias (nemo iudex in causa sua) and the right to a fair hearing (audi alteram partem).’  This really stands out as a principle, and I hope I will be able to explore it more at a later stage.

3. It is clear there is a blur between ‘organisational ethics’ and ‘organisational/corporate social responsibility’. The HEFCE policy might be said to be CSR as opposed to ethics because of its focus on voluntary external impacts and relationships – voluntary in the sense that they go beyond minimum legal requirements – while Exeter and Loughborough have more to say about values. But the first HEFCE aim includes the goals of ‘meeting, and where possible, exceeding all relevant legal requirements’, ‘behaving with honest and integrity’, ‘acting ethically and fairly’ etc which neatly sum up an ethical position. And Loughborough and Exeter are setting out a position that is beyond the legal minimum.

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