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Accounting scandals, ethical dilemmas and educational challenges

Mary Low, Howard Davey and Keith Hooper

CRITICAL PERSPECTIVES ON ACCOUNTING, 2008, vol. 19, issue 2, 222-254

Abstract: Publicity over the role of accountants often accompanies major corporate collapses. It is argued that recent corporate scandals have set a new low for the accounting profession. It is, after all, the accountants who have assisted in financial management, prepared financial statements and audited these statements. As a corollary to this, it can be argued that accountants play a significant role in good corporate governance and ethical sustainable business practices. Increasingly there are calls for greater transparency and corporate governance as well as increased adoption of professional and ethical practices by businesses. Is this possible given our inherently materialistic nature of accumulating wealth? The question must therefore be asked, if new or additional legislation would not work, what will? It has also been argued that poor quality professional education is one of the problems contributing to these scandals. This paper identifies and explores five factors that seemingly influences and contributes to the perpetuation of accounting and corporate scandals because of their impact on ethical behaviour. Also discussed in this paper is the debate related to the inadequacy of university curricula particularly with regard to the influence of ethics education on accounting graduates. To investigate further these issues, we surveyed students to ascertain whether they believe education can influence ethical behaviour. The findings from the surveys could not conclusively indicate that students perceived ethics education to have a significant influence on their ethical behaviour but nonetheless they believed that it was still important to have ethics education in their programme of study. This finding, in itself, suggests that it is still possible to influence the ‘thinking’ of accounting graduates before they entered the complex world of business.

Date: 2008
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Handle: RePEc:eee:crpeac:v:19:y:2008:i:2:p:222-254