‘What do you mean by ethical compass?’ Bachelor students’ ideas about being a moral professional

Lieke H. Van Stekelenburg*, Chris Smerecnik, Wouter Sanderse, Doret J. De Ruyter

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This article aims to explore the moral ideas and experiences that students at Dutch universities of applied sciences (UAS) have of being a professional with an ‘ethical compass.’ Semi-structured interviews were held with 36 fourth-year Bachelor students divided over four institutions and three different programmes: Initial Teacher Education, Business Services and Information and Communication Technology. Findings show that students say they strive to be(come) moral professionals, but that they have difficulties recognising and articulating the moral aspects of their professional roles. They seem to lack a moral vocabulary and the moral knowledge to verbalise their aspirations and to provide arguments to explicate or legitimise their moral behaviour. While most students were critical of the support they received from their universities, they indicated that various other role models and (work) experiences did have a strong and positive influence on their moral development. In this article, we reflect on the findings in relation to international empirical research on students’ moral development and highlight the characteristics of UAS students.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalEmpirical Research in Vocational Education and Training
Issue number1
Early online date16 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020


This work was supported by the Dutch Research Council (NWO), an initiative of the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science [Grant Number 023.006.014] and the Fontys University of Applied Science, Human Resource Management/Applied Psychology, Eindhoven, The Netherlands. Acknowledgements

FundersFunder number
Fontys University of Applied Science
Ministerie van Onderwijs, Cultuur en Wetenschap
Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek023.006.014


    • Ethical compass
    • Higher education
    • Moral development
    • Moral professionalism
    • University of applied sciences


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