The Economics Network

Improving economics teaching and learning for over 20 years

This chapter is about designing an undergraduate curriculum for economics in the twenty-first century.  It has never been more important to ensure that the education we provide for our students fits their needs and meets their expectations in an increasingly competitive job market.  A thoughtful and well-planned curriculum design can provide a framework for this.

The chapter is intended to extend, update and complement the earlier chapter on ‘Designing undergraduate degree programmes’ by Rebecca Taylor (2002).

Students who expect to complete their degree programme with substantial debts need to know that the education they receive will prepare them for their life beyond graduation.  A thorough and rigorous grounding in a subject will still be important, but the ability to apply disciplinary thinking in a variety of employment settings will also be crucial.  Furthermore, there are more generic skills that need to be embedded into the curriculum alongside the disciplinary components.  Graduates need to be prepared to adapt to a rapidly changing global environment, in ways that we cannot foresee.

As economists, we know that the subject engenders a way of thinking that is indeed widely applicable in many different contexts.  However, this needs to be clear in the design of our curriculum, and needs to be apparent to potential students and to employers in order to maintain the place of economics within the university environment – at a time when a number of disciplines may come under threat.

In any move towards designing – or redesigning – a curriculum we must be aware of the constraints within which we must operate.  The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) as the regulatory body for UK HE institutions provides the framework that shapes the structure and content of the curriculum, but allows for considerable flexibility.  Universities that wish to claim Bologna compatibility face further constrains – but more in the delivery than the design or content of the curriculum.

This chapter will explore how the economics curriculum can be designed to maximise its appeal to students and employers, without losing the rigour of analysis that we hold dear.  It will argue that there is no unique approach to curriculum design, and that careful planning of the structure can enable a diversity of approach that will provide choice and opportunity for our students.