How to foster student agency in business education: Voices from the field

Borgen, Cathrine (1,2) (2016). 'How to foster student agency in business education: Voices from the field' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

Education and Empowerment, Ethics and Morality, Business and the Market

This paper presents a newly started PhD-project aiming to provide new didactic approaches based on students voices in order to foster critical reflection and responsibility in business education.
In 2011 ethics became mandatory in business education in Norway (National curriculum for BA Business and Administration) and during the same year a national committee appointed by The Norwegian Association of Business and administration Education, was given the task to evaluate ethics education in Norwegian business schools. The final report (2013) pointed out that finance is considered to be a greedy sector maximizing the individual’s profit to the detriment of the public and social good. The committee also pointed out the ethical challenges due to limited natural recourses and argued for a broader understanding of individual and community responsibility (5). Consequently, ethics should become a crucial part of education if business students shall become responsible professionals well aware of ethical challenges in economic theory and practice (6).
However, the committeedoes not explicitly give advices about content and methods in order to foster such ethical thinking. It simply states that new methods ought to be developed and critical reflection about the content has to be discussed.
Many of the decisions that are taken include moral challenges that require responsibility for individuals, in organizations and for society. A clarification of what this responsibility consists of and how far it reaches, requires an understanding of the ethical foundation for economic theory and practice. (NRØA, 2013, p. 6)[1]
Martha Nussbaum (2015) also stresses the lack of philosophical knowledge in economics and urges to reestablish an ancient cooperation between the two fields of philosophy and economy. Historically, philosophy was an essential part in economics and she reminds that economics grew out of philosophy (1). Such point of view is worth to investigate: to what extent does students in business education find that philosophy and critics of fundamental texts will help them make adequate choices? Nussbaum claims that it is first when economists are educated in philosophy that they get a well-founded foundation for their later analyses (5-6). Nussbaum’s claim about content and dialog between different disciplines is important to recall. However, the project’s research focus deals with didactics in business education and how to promote an ethical thinking in practice. More precisely, I wish to investigate how higher business education can contribute to capability formation and foster student agency, for the purpose of developing strong agency.
Agency becomes strong agency when it aims to expand freedom of others within a network of social interactions where commitment and responsibility take place (Peris et al. 2012). ((Boni & Walker, 2013, 4)
In order to discuss agency I argue that the students’ voices are important to include, following as such other studies promoting students reflections and capability formation in professional education (Boni and Walker 2013).  The main question of the project is; What didactic approaches does students believe will foster strong agency within the frame of business education?
Agency is a main notion within the capability approach (Deneulin & Shahani, 2009). Agency can be understood as the ability to act according to what one values: “Two elements of agency are especially important to enhance capabilities and pursue human development goals: reflexivity and responsibility.” (Boni and Walker, 2013, 4) Agency is a main notion in my PhD project , when looking for new didactics to be tried out in business education. More specifically I want the students themselves to consider how to foster agency in business higher education. My didactical approach concerns content, methods, evaluations, and teacher’s role.
The PhD-project’s methodology is based on action research. It aims to examine what students see as appropriate approaches to foster agency. One main principle within action research methodology is to elaborate how action research integrates research and action in a series of flexible cycles, and its challenges doing so (Somekh, 2005, 7).
At this point of time the research design is structured in the following way, leading to three different articles based upon three subordinate research questions:
In what way does a focus on strong agency appear in documents of governance in the context of business education (national and local)?
Which didactic approaches do students describe as appropriate when there is an emphasis on development of strong agency?
Does the didactic approaches suggested have an impact on student’s development of strong agency?
 The first part of the work is a state of the field with an emphasis on agency. The second part will be conducted as group interviews with students from different universities or colleges. The aim is to collect data on how the students would find it most significant to foster agency in their own education. This information will additionally result in a preliminary didactic approach. Other students will then experience these approaches and later be a part of similar group interviews as done in the first data collection. This data will provide a base to evaluate the preliminary didactical approach. The approach will be modified. This will not necessary be the end of the cycle of actions, but terminate the PhD-project.
Keyword: Nussbaum critics of economists, Ethics in business education, Development of didactics in business education, Agency
Boni, A., & Walker, M. (2013). Human development and capabilities: Re-imagining the university of the twenty-first century: Routledge.
Deneulin, S., & Shahani, L. (2009). An introduction to the human development and capability approach: Freedom and agency: IDRC.
NRØA. (2013). Rapport om undervisning i Etikk og Samfunnsansvar i norsk økonomisk-administrativ utdanning. . Retrieved from
Nussbaum, M. C. (2015). Philosophy and Economics in the Capabilities Approach: An Essential Dialogue. Journal of Human Development and Capabilities, 16(1), 1-14.
Somekh, B. (2005). Action Research: A Methodology For Change And Development: a methodology for change and development: McGraw-Hill Education (UK).
[1] my translation

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