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CSR & Business Ethics Education in Chinese Universities

2022-11-23未知Zhou Zucheng0

The past decade witnessed the rapid development of CSR and business ethics education in China’s colleges and universities, forming a sound development trend valued by the society, supported by schools, contributed by teachers and recognized by students, laying a solid foundation for future development.


Zhou Zucheng, Professor of Antai College of Economics & Management of Shanghai Jiao Tong University

Feature for “Sustainable Development · China in the Past Decade” of China Sustainability Tribune

In the past ten years, CSR and business ethics education in colleges and universities in China has undergone welcoming changes.


Three major changes over the past ten years

Change No.1: A favorable external environment for conducting CSR and business ethics education has been formed, which enhances the motivation of business schools and teachers to offer courses and the willingness of students to learn.

More than a decade ago (2006-2007), we conducted a national survey on the status quo of MBA business ethics teaching, covering all business schools (including management schools) that were authorized to grant the Mater Degree of Business Administration (MBA) at the time. In the survey, we asked respondents to rate the 12 factors listed in the questionnaire that might pose difficulties in business ethics teaching, and the results showed that "lack of social motivation and pressure on business ethics teaching" was cited as the most significant impediment.

In the past decade, the situation has been fundamentally better. Since the 18th CPC National Congress, the CPC Central Committee with President Xi Jinping at its core has launched a slew of major policies and great achievements have been made continuously, all of which have had a significant impact on CSR and business ethics education, particularly in the following areas.

Firstly, more emphases on educational goal of fostering integrity and promoting rounded development of people. President Xi pointed out at the National Education Conference held on September 10, 2018 that “fostering integrity and promoting rounded development of people should be integrated into all aspects of ideological and moral education, cultural and knowledge education, and social practice education, and throughout all fields of basic education, vocational education and higher education. The design of disciplines, teaching, teaching materials and management systems, teaching work of teachers and learning process of students should all center around this goal". Nowadays, colleges and universities have been paying great attention to this goal. Secondly, further advanced anti-corruption campaign with overwhelming victories. Thirdly, increasing efforts to promote the rule of law with significant progress achieved. Fourthly, winning the battle against poverty. Fifthly, continuously enhanced environmental protection and  significantly improved ecological environment.

All of these efforts have created a favorable external environment for carrying out CSR and business ethics education, which in turn motivates business schools and teachers to offer courses and students’ willingness to learn. The emphasis on the goal of fostering integrity and promoting rounded development of people further establishes the need for CSR and business ethics education.

The advancement of anti-corruption campaign and the rule of law underpins the implementation of CSR and business ethics education. In case that there is serious corruption and violations of the law are not subjected to due punishment, carrying out CSR and business ethics education will become very difficult. Poverty alleviation and environmental protection are closely related to CSR and business ethics. The fight against poverty and environmental protection actions also have boosted CSR development and business ethics education.

Change No.2: The lack of teaching resources has been ended. Breakthroughs have been made in curriculum guide compiling, construction of teaching materials and case development, and academic research and peer exchanges have played an important supporting role.

In the survey conducted in 2006-2007, "lack of appropriate supplemental teaching materials" was considered to be the second most important obstacle after "lack of social motivation and pressure on business ethics teaching". Now, this situation has fundamentally changed. The increasingly sound internal conditions have not only promoted class teaching level, but also enable new teachers to be qualified in class teaching in a relatively short period of time.

First, the curriculum guide of Business Ethics was published. In 2018, Business Ethics was included in the core curriculum by China National MBA Education Supervisory Committee. In the same year, authorized by Office of the State Council Academic Degrees Committee, China National MBA Education Supervisory Committee organized the compilation of the curriculum guide of Business Ethics, which was published by Higher Education Press in 2020. Although the guide is targeted at MBA education, it is also valuable for CSR and business ethics education at other levels.

Second, teaching materials has continued to yield new achievements. In the past decade, Chinese scholars have published dozens of textbooks such as Cooperate Moral PhilosophyBusiness EthicsManagement EthicsCorporate Ethics and Social ResponsibilityBusiness Ethics and Accounting Professional Ethics, covering various levels of postgraduate, undergraduate and vocational education.

Third, the case development has achieved outstanding results. Under the guidance of China National MBA Education Supervisory Committee, China Management Case-sharing Center has sponsored the running of "Hundred Excellent Management Cases in China" for 13 consecutive years, which has produced no less than 50 "Hundred Excellent Cases" in corporate social responsibility. More than 60 cases on CSR and business ethics have been included in the Global Platform of China Cases.

Among them, You Know My Confusion - Selected Cases on Business Ethics and I Am Not a Silent Lamb - Selected Cases on Business Ethics (Volume II), edited by Qian Xiaojun and Jiang Peng of School of Economics and Management, Tsinghua University, were published in 2016 and 2022, respectively. The cases in the books are realistic, vivid, localized and open, which provide assistance for teachers teaching business ethics courses.

Fourth, academic research has been widely carried out. The number of CSR and business ethics research topics funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the National Social Science Fund of China, and the Humanities and Social Science Foundation of the Ministry of Education (MOE) has witnessed a significant increase, and a large amount of research results have been published, promoting the development of teaching.

Fifth, the peer exchange has formed a system. Since 2012, the National MBA Business Ethics and CSR Teaching Seminar has been held annually. It has become an important platform for scholars engaged in teaching in related fields in MBA colleges and universities nationwide to communicate, learn from each other, seek common development and move forward together.

Change No.3: The number of institutions that provide courses of CSR and Business Ethics has increased significantly, along with rapid growth of teachers and noticeable improvement of the course construction level.

A great rise in the number of course providers. Survey findings between 2006 and 2007 indicated that less than 40% business schools had introduced Business Ethics and other related courses, and only slightly over 40% of them had listed Business Ethics as compulsory curriculum. Despite that the survey respondents were just business schools with MBA degree-granting authority, they are still relatively competitive in China. Therefore, the statistic is a reflection of how CSR and Business Ethics education performed in China’s colleges and universities at that time.

Over the last decade, however, this situation has witnessed a dramatic change. Nowadays, business schools have more widely offered MBA and undergraduate students related courses including CSR and Business Ethics. Meanwhile, these courses have been considered as compulsory by more and more business schools.

Take Antai College of Economics & Management (ACEM), Shanghai Jiao Tong University (SJTU) as an example, Management Ethics (renamed as Business Ethics in 2021) has been provided to all MBA students as a compulsory course since 2001. In addiction, Thematic Study on Business Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility, Business Ethics and Sustainable Development and Corporate Responsibility and Ethics have been offered as compulsory courses to PhD students with the research direction of organizational management, EMBA (Executive master of business administration) students and all undergraduate students of ACEM since 2012, 2014 and 2019 respectively.


A fast growing faculty group. With more institutions introducing related lessons, demands for teachers have increased substantially. Teachers with different professional fields and experience continuously expand the faculty team. In terms of professional backgrounds, there are teachers specialized in Management Science (including branches of Strategic management, Marketing, Human Resource Management, Financial Management, and Operations Management), Economics and Law, and in humanities and others.

With regards to teaching experience, there are senior teachers equipped with abundant experience and outstanding capacities and novice teachers who just begin their teaching career. In spite of various professional backgrounds and education experience, they all have a special sense of mission and responsibility. According to educational targets, teachers have given full play to their professional strengths and upgraded teaching methods, thus achieving great effects. As a result, a large group of responsible and capable teachers has been cultivated and young teachers have also grown at a fast speed.

A remarkably improved course construction level. Aside from introducing courses like CSR and Business Ethics, business schools have also made a proactive exploration on the teaching goal, content, and method of curricula. Hence, different distinctive teaching modes are being formed. Some courses have been recognized as national, provincial, municipal, and school-level first-class courses. In 2022, Taiyuan University of Science and Technology, together with Taiyuan University of Technology, Shanxi University of Finance and Economics, Luliang University and other universities, was approved as the building pilot unit of "Virtual Teaching and Research Office of Ethics and Corporate Social Responsibility Course Group" by the MOE.


Five suggestions for the future

In the past decade, China’s education on CSR and business ethics achieved rapid development. During this period, a good growth trend showed that this education is valued by the society, supported by schools and recognized by students, with efforts made by teachers, thus laying a solid foundation for future development. However, we should also beware that, Chinese colleges are still faced with several challenges in the future. To improve both quantity and quality, tremendous and difficult tasks remain to be tackled. The suggestions are as follows:

Firstly, construct the disciplinary system of China’s corporate ethics and carry out researches on social responsibility with Chinese characteristics. We should build Chinese disciplinary system with an approach to “base upon China, learn from abroad, delve into history, focus on the contemporary, concern for human beings and look to the future”, and demonstrate achievements in the textbook building and classroom education subsequently.

Secondly, strengthen teaching level through first-class course construction. Recently all colleges and universities has paid much attention to developing first-class courses, which can be well applied to courses like CSR and Business Ethic. Through first-class course construction, colleges concerned can not only enhance their teaching levels but also play an examplary role for other colleges.

Thirdly, promote teaching with the researches. At present academic researches have attracted attention from all sectors, which needs to be maintained. In contrast, teaching research on CSR and business ethics are still insufficient and needs to be intensified, and amounts of problems need to be delved into. Teaching qualities can be promoted by virtue of studies and discussions on specific problems, which have existed for a long time and causes widespread concern.

Fourthly, lay emphasis on CSR and business ethics education for doctoral students. Compared with education for undergraduate students and MBA students, that for students pursuing doctor degree is relatively weak. Apart from these specialized students, there are also substantial PhD students who are not in relevant majors in business schools engaging in teaching relevant courses. It is imperative to provide related courses for PhD students to facilitate their understanding and mastery of necessary knowledge in the two aspects.

Finally, participate in international communication, and learn from each other. Regarding CSR and business ethics education, China has achieved a leapfrog from simply drawing on foreign experience and now should actively continue to engage in international communication and exchanges. While learning from other countries, we can share them with China’s experience and wisdom.

Source: China Sustainability Tribune

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