'Equipping students with an ethical compass.' What does it mean, and what does it imply?

Lieke H. Van Stekelenburg, Doret De Ruyter, Wouter Sanderse

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The expression that professionals should be led by their moral or ethical compass is increasingly used by academics, policy makers, professionals, and educational institutes. Dutch universities of applied sciences (UAS), for example, explicitly aim to educate their students to become professionals equipped with a moral compass. This moral or ethical compass is a metaphor of which people intuitively grasp its meaning, but our literature review also shows that various interpretations are possible. We found three clusters of proposed ethical compasses expressing its a) content, b) form, or c) use, which we present in this article. Thereafter, we evaluate which compass can meaningfully assist (young) professionals and, therefore, should be part of the aims and content of education provided by UAS. Based on this evaluation, we describe the possibilities and boundaries of UAS’ contribution to the development of their students’ ethical compass.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)91-107
Number of pages17
JournalEthics & Education
Issue number1
Early online date15 Dec 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2021


  • Ethical compass
  • professional development
  • professional ethics
  • university of applied sciences
  • student formation

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