The Power of Exemplarity: the Ethics of Quality applied to Education

The Power of Exemplarity: the Ethics of Quality applied to Education

Delphine Genin – Senior Teaching Faculty, Head of Innovation and Entrepreneurship


By Delphine Genin

4 minutes
The Power of Exemplarity: the Ethics of Quality applied to Education


Do you consider yourself as an example to others? Neuroscience has demonstrated that we all tend to consider ourselves a little bit better than the rest of the population. One helpful example of this cognitive bias is the Dunning-Kruger effect. This bias causes an overestimation of oneself capability. A two minutes video on social media might give the audience the impression that they master one topic simply because it became familiar to them. The combination of poor self-awareness and low cognitive ability leads to overestimation of capabilities.

As educators, we need to look into this pattern and to assess the risks and opportunity of exemplarity to open possibilities for the learners, and of course, to do so, we have to leave the ego perspectives on the side. Don’t we all aim at being looked up at? Education comes from the latin expression “ex-duceremeaning to guide outside. Higher education is about inspiration and empowerment, and each educational institution has its own vision of what is “ex-ducere” and the possibilities of it.

But there is an embarrassing question: Is Higher Education really inspiring? Do we impress digital natives, Gen Z and Alpha? Does our attempt to exemplarity stand a chance against online teenage activists, digital dopamine shoots and metaverse virtual eden?

Being exemplary as a group

César Ritz Colleges Academic Director, Tanja Florenthal, identifies exemplarity as “doing the right thing at the right time”, this definition is a very useful guidance on a daily basis. Exemplarity is first an individual responsibility, a commitment to self to behave in a certain way that makes a person worthy of imitation. The most reiterated Aristotle quote claims it “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Inspirational leaders are seen as exemplar and their name is given to educational institution as role model: Mr César Ritz, Hotelier of the Kings and the King of the King of Hoteliers, is the example guiding hospitality students at César Ritz Colleges.

The Best Practices management method is about sharing the exemplarity and reapply. Whether as an individual or as an organisation, the objective is to improve and to motivate other to do the same. And when a set of individuals adopt similar beneficial behaviours, the magic of collective exemplarity happens. Faculty focus group for example is a great way to enhance collective intelligence and best practices amongst organisation.

Quality management processes the quest for exemplarity, with at its heart the highest interest: the guarantee of the best services possible. To summarize, exemplarity is deployed by Quality Management which needs to be backed up by Business Ethics.

What is the link between Business Ethics and Quality Management?

Business Ethics is stemming from philosophy and morals while Quality Management has grown from management empirical research. Those two subjects are two sides of the same medal. Quality makes visible the transparency of Business Ethics. The implementation of quality management system goes with the deployment of systematic controls, responsibility checking, KPI board documents and trainings. Those processes are deeply linked to social dynamical aspects. The success of Quality Management depends then on the team behaviour, commitment and responsibility taking. When people consciously decide to do the right thing at the right time, in other words to act ethically, everyone wins. The social dynamical aspects are a crucial element of the success of quality process management.

Reality shows that there are gaps in Total Quality Management. No system can control every and single aspects of a process. That’s where ethics kicks in and backs up the quality method. At the core of ethics is the concept of responsibility, the ability to be accountable for either the credits or the blame. It means having individuals that can give answers that go beyond the reference of the process or the rules of the game. The terrible unproductive common sentence is “I don’t know, that’s how we do it simply” and the quality decreased. As educators, we are supported by programs, guided by syllabus, evaluated by management but amongst those quality process, what is key, is the individual responsibility we take to accompany and encourage our students one by one. The personal deontology to find any solutions to do the best possible.

Growing personal ethics is a massive work, as it is rooted in personal belief and education but research on empowerment and autonomy shows that in a climate of trust, teams perform better, that they take more responsibility, and as consequences the quality increased overall. The challenge is to both manage quality processes control and the freedom to exercise responsibility.

The power of exemplarity in education

Rabelais, a French philosopher of the 16th century was warning us “Science with conscience is nothing but the ruin of the soul”. The last century painfully proved him right. Even if we don’t refer to the soul of our students anymore per se, the nowadays moral ethics, mental health and career purpose challenges echo the concept of conscience. Consciously reshaping education to face global concerns for the modern societies is the task of educators. Interestingly, it is actually what students expect from  Higher Education. As part of the QS Sustainability Ranking 2023, 3000 students advocated that the top values they would like to see in a university they study are “supporting and respecting human rights”, “commitments to ethical working practices” and “Ambitions to become a carbon neutral company”. Additionally, nearly half (49%) of the participants believe a university’s social impact to be very important when deciding which institution to study. Unpacking the QS statistics: students want to learn exemplarity in exemplar universities.

To conclude, one could believe that living in a world of collective irresponsibility and narrow self-interest encourages passivity and the loose of the soul as Rabelais names it. It is educators’ moral obligation to equip the next leaders with academic knowledge rooted in quality management and ethics. This is necessary to reach exemplarity management that the planet and humankind craves for. Curriculars and courses will constantly evolve with content such as diversity and inclusion, sustainability, innovation, entrepreneurship, and so many fantastic ones, however the value of Exemplarity is the corner stone education.

This article was published in the 1st QS Insights Magazine -


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QS World University Rankings: Sustainability 2023



By Delphine Genin

Lecturer and Learning Consultant