World Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities

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Published by Science and Education Publishing DOI:10.12691/wjssh-6-3-1

The Situation of Work Ethics

in the Ethiopian Public Higher Education

Mengistu Adugna Dibaba*

Department of Civics and Ethical Studies, Madda Walabu University; Bale Robe, Ethiopia *Corresponding author:

Received May 02, 2020; Revised June 03, 2020; Accepted June 10, 2020


It is incontestable that the prevalence and effective practical implementation of ethical principles and moral values in organizations like higher education is crucial. The principle of work ethics including integrity, equity, fairness, accountability, transparency, teamwork and the like controls what an employee should perform in different situations in every organization. These principles and values mainly determine the good performance of the workers and effectiveness of an organization, principally as they applied to guide human conduct. However, most of Ethiopian public higher educations lack the good practices of these valuable work ethics and moral values. Rather, these institutions are characterized with corruption, poor governance, lack of integrity, equity, fairness, accountability, transparency and so on. Yet, greater attention was not given to the above ethical practice and values by the concerned bodies. Therefore, this study attempts to shed light on the condition of work ethics in the Ethiopian higher education. In this article, by using analytic approach and some personal experiences, the findings of the study indicated that there is a significant unethical behavior in most of Ethiopian public universities as originating from ethical lapses including greed, inadequate ethics training, lax ethics laws, and lenient disciplinary actions. The study has also identified that besides conflicts, scandals and other acute unethical practices, there is sneaky tendency of politically targeting higher education institutions especially by opposition parties. Similarly, since there is no uniform code of ethics and adequate ethics training, the proper perception as well as meaningful practical implementation of the principles of workplace ethics and values in these institutions is very weak. Hence, it is argued that these malicious and pervasive unethical practices need greater educational regulation policy and strategy reconsideration from Ethiopian government, Ministry of Science and Higher Education and university leaders. There should be an established uniform, binding and refined universities wide Code of Ethics that guide the behavior of employees and leaders. This also helps to develop the practice of ethics training, effective disciplinary action and strong staff appraisal mechanism.


: ethics, work ethics, code of ethics, performance appraisal, higher education

Cite This Article:

Mengistu Adugna Dibaba, “The Situation of Work Ethics in the Ethiopian Public Higher Education.” World Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities, vol. 6, no. 3 (2020): 69-73. doi: 10.12691/wjssh-6-3-1.

1. Introduction

Universities are the custodians of knowledge and information. These institutions generate and promulgate knowledge within societies. Universities are also the access to power, considerably affecting the quality of economic and social life all over the world. Besides preparing the younger generation for promising future, institutions of higher education exists to provide multi-disciplinary and multidimensional services to the community. They aim at producing competent and ethically disciplined students, conducting problem-solving researches, delivering different and diverse community services, as well as serving and maintaining the wellbeing of the university’s’ communities in every respect. Therefore, to discharge their responsibilities in a very meaningful way and to bring about a conducive

environment for the whole educational functions, university leaders and all other employees should cultivate and practically implement the principles of work ethics and moral values.

Organizational ethical culture should be developed to avoid unethical behavior in the campuses as originating from ethical lapses: from greed, inadequate ethics training, lax ethics laws, and lenient disciplinary actions. Moreover, developing a uniform and effective code of conduct for all universities is very important to reduce ethnic based conflicts and scandals such as corruption, bad governance, abuse of public trust and different discriminations, with which most of developing countries universities like Ethiopia are characterized.


Furthermore, there is no good and pertinent ethics training as well as effective staff evaluation apparatus in these institutions. In contrary to this, these public organizations are full of corruption and various unethical practices that are unexpected from university employees and leaders.

This paper is aimed to shed light on the nature of work ethics in Ethiopian public higher education by reviewing the relevant literatures. And it tends to examine a means of weaving the principles of work ethics into the fabric of Ethiopian public higher educations and the way to get it practically implemented. This is to provide the way that would dispose and encourage members of the universities, including employees, leaders, and to some extent, students to meet the ethical expectations of the societies. It suggests the scheme to develop and manage organizational ethical culture that would be required from university members and leaders to discharge their responsibilities and be held accountable for their performance.

2. The Basic Concepts of Work Ethics

Ethics is a branch of philosophy and etymologically it comes from the Greek word ethos which means moral character or custom. At its heart ethics is concerned with what is right or good. As such it contains moral choices between right and wrong, and good and bad. Such choices are mostly dogged by different values, pertinent laws, rules or regulations, the norms or culture and the leadership. To sum up, ethics (or moral philosophy) is a discipline that deals with the aspects of conducts that govern the behavior of an individual or a group.

Work ethics on the other hand is a moral value pertaining to hard work and diligence. It can be taken as a cornerstone for the success of every institution. It is a set of ethical principles and standards that guide the behavior of persons in different organizations as well as in day to day life. In a precise terms, work ethics is about what is morally correct, honorable and acceptable to the larger majority of the people of an organization, society or group” ([1]:158). Ferrell et al [2] also described it as a code of ethics and set of values that help to conduct and guide the workers’ ethical behavior and improve the development of ethical culture within the work place. It is standard against which a worker’s activities can be judged as right or wrong, correct or incorrect. It can also be termed as a set of ethical principles and standards, which include the right attitude, correct behavior, respect for others and effective communication in the workplace.

Fundamentally, work ethics controls what an employee should perform in different situations in an organization. More or less, these principles include solidarity, integrity, equity, justice, fairness, accountability, transparency, honesty, truth, respect for others, reliability, punctuality, dedication to the job, hard work, productivity, professionalism, cooperation and teamwork, self-discipline, openness, academic freedom and so on [3,4]. The list is not exclusive.

3. Code of Ethics

Although they are most of the time used interchangeably, as one and the same, code of conduct and

code of ethics are different and denote different things. Code of ethics is broader than code of conduct. “While code of conduct is usually specific, code of ethics is more general” ([5]: 69). Accordingly, codes of conduct deal with specific acts that individuals or groups ought to do or not. It includes instructions, sets of rules or principles concerning the behavior of employees in a particular organization or institution. It is more focused, and defines how employees or members should act in specific situations.

Code of ethics, on the other hand, is broad, giving employees or members a general idea of what types of behavior and decisions are acceptable and encouraged at an organization. Codes of ethics are logically general in terms of their extent and gist, promoting groups and individual employees to demonstrate and embrace particular characteristics such as loyalty, selflessness, honesty, objectivity, probity and integrity [6].

Code of ethics is a vital document that describes standards of conduct for any organization’s board members, officers, managers and other staff. It constructs an ethical framework and common values upon which all decisions are grounded. The rationale of the code ethics is to confer guidance and set common ethical standards that each of members of particular organization must adhere to on an unswerving foundation. It governs the actions and working relationships of all members of particular organization. “Code of [ethics] is a basic reference for people to arrive at ethical decisions, thereby not only improving the conditions of their own lives but also enhancing the productivity and credibility of their respective organizations and institutions”([7], p, 5).

If we use it effectively, put it into meaningful practices and day to day activities, code of ethics help us establishing a direction for every institution and alleyway to meet the organization’s ethical responsibilities to its stakeholders such as customers, employees, suppliers, strategic partners and so and so forth.

4. Work Ethics as Imperative for Higher

Education Institutions


BE-ci [9] attested that there is a noteworthy correlation between work ethics and job performance. Accordingly, work ethics has strong contribution to bring about high employee’s work performance and the meaningful discharge of the principles of work ethics can help organization to realize great success in a general. What was investigated by the works of Miller et al [10] and Fiorito et al [11] also proves this reality.

The practices of work ethics and development of good ethical culture in Ethiopian higher education organizations will provide direction and guidance in various areas in order to build united, harmonious and ethical employees and thereby making the organizations productive and successful. K Sunand ([12]: 23) contended “Organizations adhering to ethical standards determine the well-being of all the stakeholders, the organization’s productivity and the subsequent profitability, as well as the macroeconomic growth and development of the nation. “Good work ethic proved capable of improving the performance of the individual” (I Wayan Marsalia Indica, 2011, cited in Faisal et al [13]: 30). Employee performance is strongly influenced by the work ethic and employees’ discipline (ibid).

Endorsing sound code of ethics is very important for these higher institutions as substantial supporter of solving various conflict situations in the academic environment which could arise from the multifaceted interactions between workmates, in teacher-student relations, among students as well as between workers and leaders. University employees have to do everything they can to prevent conflicts. If, however, a conflict arises, the code of ethics implies that all interested parties should solve it in a cultivated and just manner” ([14]: 63). Generally, the practices of work ethics and moral values have tremendous significance to guide and shape the behavior of workers in Ethiopian higher institutions and to ensuring the success and fruitfulness of organizations themselves.

5. The State of Work Ethics and Values in

Ethiopian Higher Education

It is definite that the prevalence and the effective practical implementation of ethical principles and values in organizations like higher education is crucial. “The legitimacy, credibility, support, and autonomy of higher education institutions rest on the quality of their activities and services related to teaching and learning, research and outreach, as well as the integrity and transparency of their procedures” [3]. Attention needs to be paid to intentional and unintentional threats that could weaken obedience to core work ethics, values, and commitment to good governance in higher education. As UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs Division for Public Economics and Public Administration [15] indicated, besides escalating ethnic conflict, crushing poverty, gross human rights violation and swelling unemployment, developing countries are stringently being stricken by poor governance, public officials’ scandals and poor public service delivery stimulated by public servants’ lack of professionalism and lack of basic work place ethics such as fidelity, impartiality, transparency, diligence, punctuality, effectiveness, integrity and so on. Philip

Rothman also added “Ethical transgression is an ongoing problem in higher education” ([16]: V). Even worse than corporate and other governmental sectors, there is stringent wave of scandals that stems from corruption, bad governance, abuse of public trust, nepotism and mediocrity across developing countries higher education like Ethiopia. This needs for greater attention to the practice of ethical behavior and ethical decision-making.

Unlike most of developed countries higher education, in many Ethiopian public higher educations there are strong occurrence of various unethical practices such as corruption, poor governance, greed, scant ethics training, weak ethics laws, and lax disciplinary punishment. As a university teacher, it is easy to come by employees and, even leaders that do not abide by the principles and ethics of the higher learning institutions they are working in. I myself witnessed the awful experiences of this reality in three Ethiopian universities including Axum University, Wollega University and Madda Walabu University for the fact that I worked in all of them. Moreover, I have lecturer friends from most of Ethiopian Universities and we share many ideas to each other regarding the prevalence of corruption, poor governance and other unethical practices in the Ethiopian universities, and their response is that they are tired of corrupt and unethical behavior of university workers and leaders due to the absence of strong ethical codes and strict corrective penalties that should be applied for all employees and leaders alike.

These higher education institutions are also occupied with corrupt and immoral leaders. The Behavior of educational leaders in Ethiopian public universities is unethical and cannot meet the standards that are expected from ethical leaders [17]. It is not difficult for university workers to observe that universities are becoming the center of corruption and other various pervasive discriminations, even more than other public institutions and offices. Academic dishonesty which truly leads to corruption and other academic scandals has reached startling degree in Ethiopian higher education institutions

[18]. This is because there is no strong and binding code of ethics and the practices of ethical culture in these universities. If there is such ethical code, and strong ethics training and disciplinary action as well as its effective practical implementation that can be timely inspected and regulated by government, corruption and other various unethical practices can be significantly reduced. It is very important to learn from universities of developed countries including most of American, European, Australian, Chinese and other developing countries university such as some of South African Universities and so forth. They have strong code of ethics and the practice of work ethics as well as strict disciplinary actions. Their workers evaluation method and ethics training is better. Unlike Ethiopia, the government and university leaders of developed countries are serious about corruption, bad governance, academic dishonesty and other unethical behavior of the workers. These universities are politically neutral and their leaders are elected basing on their merit rather than political loyalty to the government.


backgrounds. In many of Ethiopian universities, there is significant incidence of different discriminations stemming from these discrepancies. Especially in 2019/2020, most of Ethiopia higher education faced pressing problems arose from ethnic conflicts between university students, though it highly backed by nationwide political mess. University employees and other politicians are also not free from participating in and even, intensification of these conflicts. Here, it can be argued that the prevalence of strong principles of work ethics and its sound implementation that backed by political neutrality, effective ethics training and strong disciplinary actions, rigorously help reducing these politics based calamities. “Being ethical is about playing fair, thinking about welfare of others and thinking about consequences of one’s actions” ([19]: 33). Besides, this value-laden practice also paves the way to resuscitate and reinforce the indigenous moral milieus and values that imbedded in societies cultures and traditions through encouraging elders/sages and other well-experienced individuals to advice and share their cultural experiences for university communities.

Furthermore, establishing a uniform code of ethics and its meaningfully implementing is very essential to a substantiate and support a means of solving a various conflict situations in the academic environment that could arise from the interactions between colleagues, in teacher-student relations, among students as well as the interactions between superiors and subordinates or in teacher-administration employee relations. This can be used as a valuable part of diagnosis for unethical passions such as being faithful to appetitive spirit, emotion, material greed and egocentric or selfish attitudes.

Virtually in all Ethiopian universities, being printed on different reads/boards, their vision and mission statements often summarize the purpose for which each institution was founded and established. One can also get some ethical principles and values appearing on the board or on the wall of each office. However, without a uniform and binding endorsement, proper perception as well as meaningful practical implementation of these principles, mere promulgation of statements of core vision and mission can be trivial. The current Ethiopian higher education proclamation number …/2019 [20] provides the legal framework within which the policy goals are to be achieved, but has no considerable discussion about universities code of ethics and values as such. It can be observed that there is no comprehensive, university wide code of conduct for the Ethiopian higher education workers. “…many higher education institutions [in the world] do not have an institutional code of ethics that articulates how, as institutions, they promote academic integrity and prevent academic dishonesty and unethical behavior in the academic community” ([3]: 2). In the absence of such code, institutions were left to either craft their own crippled one or left with pretence and propagation of titular ethical codes and artifice moral values. To achieve their intended goals every higher education institutions should develop and espouse an institutional code of ethics and increase awareness in society of the decisive role that they play in promoting ethical values and integrity by their model manner [3].

6. The Worth of Ethics-Laden Staff

Appraisal for Ethiopian Universities

Staff appraisal is sort of activities that help us to evaluate or judge the work performance of employees by collecting, validating, evaluating, transmitting, renewing and utilizing information gathered from them. Employing this course of action is intended to determine the outcomes of work performed and potential opportunities that are valuable for an organization. Appraisal is very essential tools to assess employees’ work performance in enhancing the progress of an institution. Performance appraisal is an unavoidable element of organizational life (Longenecker & Fink, 1999, cited in [21]), and they are an important value-laden process by which organizations strive to direct themselves. Generally, it is the systematic evaluation of the performance of employees and understanding their abilities to further the productivity and development of an institution.

In fact, public organizations like universities are established to ensure public good. Public servants or employees in such institutions are supposed to provide services to guarantee a better life for all people. In contrary to this, in most of Ethiopian universities, there are many service givers and administrators who are characterized by unprofessional, unethical, incompetent, corrupt, disloyal, shoddy and other different unaccountable conducts. “Many professionals with a higher education are excellent specialists but are moral crooks” ([22]: 36).

Furthermore, their mechanism of performance evaluation is very weak and nominal. Hence, these unethical behaviors and mediocrity needs building and effectively applying the feasible doctrine of employees’ performance evaluation. Apart from imparting quality education, institutions of higher education need to instill ethical, moral and social values amongst the workers and student fraternity. If there is well-founded ethical code, meaningful ethical training strong disciplinary action and effective performance evaluation principles, it can positively impacted on the behavioral change of university communities and leaders, as far as higher education is leadership education.

Performance appraisal has different valuable advantages for Ethiopian higher institutions and employees therein. It is essential for merit-based promotion and demotion, giving different advantages for disciplined hard workers, and employees’ development. And it also plays significant roles to ensure the effective and smooth relationship between employees and employer, employees and managers or leaders, and so forth. This effective and smooth communication also helps the employers, managers and leaders to identify wrong doers and thereby to advice and correct them or to take a strong disciplinary actions.


7. Concluding Remarks

Ethics has tremendous values in institutions like higher education. According to many intellectuals and researchers, it is considered as a cornerstone for the success and well functioning of different organizations and service delivery oriented offices. The development of ethical consciousness and ethical culture is very imperative to guide the behavior of workers and to give them direction in their day to day endeavors in an institution. High work ethics standards, principles and values are critical for maintaining the public’s trust and doing what is right in the exercise of our professional duties and responsibilities. But, as Aristotle remarked, ethics is a practical science and so that it needs steady development of ethical cultures, persistent exercise and tireless practical tasks. This reality is what is lacking in most of Ethiopian public universities except some universes like Addis Ababa University. There is ethical lapses / moral decay, poor ethical exercise and feeble disciplinary actions. Likewise, there is a pervasiveness of unethical practices and scandals that involves corruption, poor governance, biases, partiality, injustices and other discriminations.

Furthermore, these organizations are characterized by lack of transparency, equality, integrity, work devotion, team work, diligence and so forth. Ethiopian universities are also not free from political influences. They are becoming the center of political exercise by both ruling and opposition parties. This discrepancy is intensifying ethnic and political based conflicts amongst students and, to some extent, amongst employees and leaders. For this reason, Ethiopian Federal government and other stakeholders ought to give strong attention to resuscitate ethical principle and values in order to build ethical culture and develop moral consciousness in these public higher educations. This is helpful not only for healthy functioning of workers and students, but also for distancing insidious political games from center of excellences. To get it practically implemented, Ethiopian government, in collaboration with Ethiopian Ministry of Science and Higher Education, should adopt a well-established and uniform Institutional Code of Ethics and provide strong and refined feasible mechanism of employees’ performance appraisal. This is not an easy task, but it requires a tough commitment and dedication from all concerned bodies.

The development of nationwide ethical culture and consciousness also plays a great role to reduce our collective attitudinal change to the philosophical lane of excessive materialism, selfish individualism and exploitative capitalism. As far as man is not only a social animal (man cannot live as man, without society), but also a moral being and a moral agent, people should be educated on the dangers of corruption, excessive materialism and the culture of ‘get rich quick’. Ethiopian government should reconsider and regulate institutional ethics including codes of ethical policies and procedures with guidelines on appropriate standards of behavior. These policies should be part of public universities’ major strategy.


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