The notion of professional ethics in the realm of higher education emerges because it is being recognized that professors and instructors are the one (and in many countries the only) group of teachers who are not required to be trained, educated, certified and licensed to teach. Therefore, they clearly have no structured opportunity to learn about the professional ethics of their roles and responsibilities as teachers. Located within this setup, the book under review, Higher Education and Professional Ethics, brings together a rich collection of chapters that have been thoughtfully categorized under three main themes/parts, namely Philosophy, Education and Professional Ethics; Teaching, Research and Professional Ethics; and Professional Ethics: Case Studies. The authors belong to diverse backgrounds and represent areas of education, disaster studies, technology, ethics per se, sociology, gender studies and social sciences. The collection of writings represents a much needed and a timely discussion in an era in which universities all over are aspiring to achieve excellence in teaching, research and engagement. They are expected to be creators and repositories of new, positive ideas that promote openness of mind, and as Behari and Saxena (2017) put it, ‘ . . . values of empathy, ethics, respect for diversity, freedom with responsibility, creativity and humaneness become the basic foundation for any University.’
Some of the issues that cut across the various chapters in the book are: Is teaching a professional activity or not? Does society proclaim ‘teaching’ a profession? Is teaching an art or a skill? Are teachers born or made? Do research works have ethical considerations? Another special feature of the book is the cross references made to the notion of teaching and learning for which the National Policy on Education 1986 and the National Knowledge Commission have been quoted. Looking at it conceptually, while dwelling upon the role of teachers, the argument could have been further strengthened by referring to the National Curriculum Framework (NCF) 2005.
The first part of the volume with five chapters provides a detailed sketch on diverse topics. The first chapter deliberates upon select issues pertaining to academic ethics in Indian higher education in the era of markets, highlighting the point that the universities have had to revisit their ways of functioning because of the rise of market dominance in the economy along with demographic factors. The case of India is well presented, and the author says that the ‘commodification’ of education has ultimately impacted the students, higher education institutions and teachers. What is commendable in the chapter is the use of varied instances and examples to illustrate the observed trends, and suggest strategies to reclaim the ethics of higher education. The second chapter presents, as its backdrop, a vivid discussion on the recently introduced Choice Based Credit System (CBCS) and situates the role of teachers within this milieu. What emerges significantly at the end of the chapter is the author’s well supported, evidence-based stance using both primary and secondary data, that, as long as teachers understand their own ethics of being a professional and are aware of their rights and responsibilities, and follow the given code of teaching profession, they will not encounter any ethical issues as a teacher under the ambit of this academic reform. The third chapter is pertinent, particularly in the context of the mandate calling for the formation of an Internal Complaints Committee in all institutions to monitor ethical issues related to teaching, learning and research. This chapter gives a lucid view of the need for character development of teachers in higher education settings. Even though the fourth chapter presents an engineering perspective to professional ethics, thereby bringing out the technical curriculum part of higher education, it leaves little doubt that it is equally, if not more, applicable to all areas of higher education. The author’s comments on why teaching professional ethics need not entail teaching moral theory adds an interesting conclusion to the chapter. The last chapter in the first section provides a meaningful micro level analysis of how neo-liberal pressures have transformed work culture and, consequently, an understanding of the teachers’ ethical responsibilities in higher education. The author’s argument is adequately placed within the theoretical writings of Foucault and his explanations of government, power and knowledge.
The second part of the book has, as its focus, writings pertaining to professional ethics vis-à-vis teaching and research. Four chapters contribute towards an understanding of this aspect, including a chapter by the editor. The inclusion of this chapter is imperative as it discusses a concept that is more often than not ignored or considered a separate entity when the agenda of education is taken up. The author successfully dispels this ‘wrong’ notion and, further, presents a detailed and convincing picture of how assessment is an integral part of a course curriculum. To put it in an alternate manner, he presents the case of ‘Assessment for Learning’ in lieu of ‘Assessment in Learning or of Learning’. The role of teachers of higher education is brought out cogently within this purview. The second chapter in Part II stands out because it addresses ethical issues in research as an overarching dimension of higher education. The idea of teacher as a researcher is well understood in the field of education, and this forms the crux of the deliberations within the chapter. The author takes us on a journey of various cases of plagiarism that were identified at various levels and stages. The reader is made aware of how the code of ethics has, by and large, remained silent on ‘research ethics’, giving emphasis primarily to the ethical codes of conduct formulated in various disciplines, including teaching. However, this critique may appear limited as it does not adequately present the more recent scenario in research at the university level, where issues of plagiarism are increasingly being taken up as matters of priority in contemporary times.
The next two chapters of Part II highlight the role of teachers in higher education and the societal expectations from them. One chapter revolves around the evolution of three models of teachers, bringing out the commonalties and the issues of differentiation among them. How the agency of the teacher gets unfolded in each of the models is covered in the context of higher education institutions. The next chapter brings to the forefront the rather dismal state in which the Indian teacher is expected to function, to be a super-human, a multi-tasker, multi-talented and multi-faceted personality, toiling to fulfil the complex needs of modern Indian society.
The concluding Part III of the volume consists of case studies in order to portray a comprehensive understanding of the concept of professional ethics. The four chapters offer a grand finale to the discussion on the larger issue. What sets them apart is that they look at ethics from the lens of the future needs in terms of the education and training of teachers, their pedagogy and assessment, and matters of accreditation. The tenth chapter, the first in Part III, is a critical appraisal of the newly introduced Performance Based Assessment Scheme (PBAS) of teachers. The author needs to be commended for delving into the intricacies and nuances of the issue bringing out the gross limitations of the scheme as it exists today. How it may end up becoming a self-defeating exercise is also revealed in an open honest manner. Chapter eleven is based primarily on an empirical study. By highlighting what constitutes a culturally responsive pedagogy, this write-up presents a detailed and convincing picture of the need for both personal and professional teacher ethics as key attributes of quality teachers. It also showcases the inadequacy of the present programmes to prepare teachers for inclusive practices and teachers who appreciate diversity in their classrooms. Chapter twelve is noteworthy as it succinctly exposes the limits of the role being played by agencies of accreditation. It offers a sharp critique of the prevalent system of controls being exercised by them. Apart from providing a real picture of assessment of the current practices, this chapter offers an expansive meaning of what good governance in higher education ought to be. The last, yet not the least, is the chapter that is interestingly titled ‘Using Cascading Pedagogy to Develop Critical Consciousness and Transferable Skills’. Drawing largely upon the Cascade Model of Teacher Training that is prevalent in teacher education in our country, this chapter gives a glimpse into how learning can be taken from the classroom to the community and contribute in fostering issues of gender justice and equity.
As a ‘final word’, it would be in place to summarize that the book, in its entirety, has made a fair attempt to address the objectives with which it began. What has emerged is a need to, perhaps, ‘un-learn’ and ‘relearn’ the way in which higher education ought to be organized in the Indian context. An urgent demand for the education/training of teachers of higher education is also seen to be fast evolving. The book provides a theoretical underpinning to comprehend the issues of higher education in a holistic manner.
Behari, A. and Saxena, A. (2017). ‘Pedagogies in Higher Education: Striving Towards Innovation’. The Delhi University Journal of the Humanities and the Social Sciences.4:70-89.
Alka Behari is a Senior Associate Professor at the Department of Education, University of Delhi, Delhi.