If the juicy tax scandals of major multinationals have taught us anything, it’s that ethics should play a significant role in how we teach taxation accounting. The big corporate players are scrutinised by the public as to whether they pay their fair amount of tax. While legally they may be within their rights, the ethical and moral dilemmas are rife.

This is the world our graduates will enter. They need to know how to navigate this grey space.

With a fundamental understanding of what is right and wrong, and developing a confidence in applying the law, students can enter their careers with integrity. Academics have the opportunity to play a big part in inspiring this.

Associate Professor Ken Devos, Director of the Master of Professional Accounting at Swinburne University of Technology, explains how academics can help students navigate ethics and tax law.

Tax evasion or tax planning?

Teaching the concept of integrity goes hand in hand with teaching regulatory requirements of tax law. Assoc. Prof. Devos explains, “We have tax evasion at one extreme, which is clearly illegal. Then we have tax planning at the other extreme, which is legal – and within the spirit of the law. There is a grey area between evasion and planning, where tax practitioners may chase tax minimisation opportunities for their clients.”

From a tax practitioner’s point of view, they are employed by a client or a corporation to get the best tax result legally and realise maximum benefit for the client. But when that line of unethical tax avoidance feels like it is being crossed, alarm bells should ring.

“Where there are tax laws, there are boundaries, but there are also a lot of areas for manipulation. Therefore, ethics must ‘kick in’ to be able to take the right path. If students are starting with a strong ethical base, they’re more likely to make the correct decision” says Devos.

How to incorporate ethics for taxation and accounting studies

In a tightly packed curriculum, ethics was previously tucked away in the back of the course – a small topic that needed to be addressed for CPA requirements.

This philosophy has now changed. Academics now want to implement ethics throughout a course, and therefore need it highlighted throughout the relevant textbooks. Wiley’s upcoming edition of Bevacqua’s Australian Taxation intends to do just this.

Associate Professor Devos, who teaches Taxation Law, has joined the Wiley author team to ensure ethics is consistently incorporated into the publications, and offers five ways we can help students navigate the grey.

Tip 1: Incorporate real-world learning with scenarios

  • According to Assoc. Prof. Devos, the opportunity to provide students with real-life examples and situations is gold. “Ask your students, what course of action would you take in this case? What advice would you give to the client or the corporate board? Students are challenged to think about the correct ethical avenue to take.”
Bevacqua Real World Connections

Tip 2: Use online polling tools for eLearning

  • A useful technique in online delivery is to use a poll or survey – utilising in-built tools on your online platform. Students can consider the dilemma on the spot, and the anonymous poll gives both the instructor and the students an idea of what most people may think is ethically appropriate. This is a great springboard for the instructor to understand where students may be lacking ethical decision-making skills.

Tip 3: Utilise the Ethics Think boxes in textbooks

  • The upcoming edition of Australian Taxation has Ethics Think features boxes inserted throughout relevant chapters. This shows students that ethical dilemmas could present themselves in various ways throughout the various aspects of tax law and taxation practice. The snapshot scenarios give students the opportunity to consider their ethical response as they work through the textbook.
Bevacqua Ethics Boxes