Perspectives on curriculum reform
This page will be regularly updated with links to the ongoing debate about curriculum reform in economics, most recent at the top. See Changing the Subject for an overview of the debate as of May 2014.
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Does economics need to be ‘decolonised’? by Carolina Alves, Economics Observatory, summarising sessions in the 2020 Festival of Economics
The festival’s discussions were infused with an urgency to tackle economics’ problems with race and Eurocentrism, and long-entrenched biases in the field that make reforms challenging.
"The radical plan to change how Harvard teaches economics" by Dylan Matthews, Vox
Contrasts two introductory economics courses at Harvard: an orthodox course in the theory of economics and an empirically-driven course that involves students in data analysis.
"Do Women Avoid Economics...Or Does Economics Avoid Women?" by John T. Harvey (former Executive Director of the International Confederation of Associations for Pluralism in Economics), Forbes
The core explanation of the determination of wages in the typical economics classroom centers on the idea that your salary equals some objective measure of your actual contribution[.] [W]ho among the members of an introductory-level economics class is this likely to attract? For whom is “you get what you deserve” likely to strike a chord?
"The re-education of Economics 101", article in Quartz magazine about the CORE project, the Festival of New Economic Thinking, and the book The Econocracy
[CORE's] founders believed there was a gap between what students were being taught in traditional courses and textbooks, and the way academics and researchers actually thought about economic problems. Economists were winning Nobel prizes for their studies of how and why markets fail, psychology was being integrated back into economics, and yet students weren’t being taught much of that.
"Shut down the Business School" 30 min. lecture by Martin Parker (University of Bristol), plus response by André Spicer (Cass Business School) and discussion
To take one obvious [example], most business schools don't teach about co-operatives [...]. Something like one billion people across the world either work in, or benefit from, the activities of the co-operative form, but you wouldn't know that if you went to a business school. [...] Neither would you know anything about a whole variety of other ways in which the economy might be understood.
"How Economics Professors can stop failing us", 38 min. lecture by Steven Payson (US Department of the Interior).
The problem is not that neoclassical economists truly believe that neoclassical economics explains the world better [...]. The problem is that [they] are motivated and incentivised by the game of promoting the kind of models that will advance them in their careers.
"Britain’s economics students are dangerously poorly educated" by Phillip Inman, The Observer
This month, the pressure group Rethinking Economics said Britain’s universities were failing to equip economics students with the skills that businesses and the government say they need. [It] found that universities were producing “a cohort of economic practitioners who struggle to provide innovative ideas to overcome economic challenges or use economic tools on real-world problems”.
"Is UK economics teaching changing? Evaluating the new subject benchmark statement" Paper by Andrew Mearman, Danielle Guizzo & Sebastian Berger in Review of Social Economy
Liberal education demands that students develop critical thinking, autonomy, and wisdom. [...] However, those objectives may not be well-served if the objectives of economics educators are mainly to produce the next generation of neoclassical researchers.
"Thinking like an economist?" report on Dutch economics degrees by Rethinking Economics NL
Certainly, the theories and methods that are taught to us are applicable to many parts of the economic system. But they neglect the social and political foundations of markets. [...] This may be productive for many academic pursuits; it is not productive in the making of professional economists.
"Economists Are Evolving, But Old-School Textbooks Aren't" Opinion column by Mark Buchanan, Bloomberg.com
The theorems teach us about something that is not even remotely like any real economy. They have an iconic status in the profession that is disconnected from any legitimate explanatory power. [...] The trouble isn't the latest research, but the zombie ideas that economists keep pushing.
"Why the problem is economics, not economists" by Cahal Moran, OpenDemocracy.net
Rethinking Economics conducted a curriculum review of 174 modules at 7 Russell Group universities [...]. Under 10% of modules even mentioned anything other than mainstream or 'neoclassical' economics; [...] Only 24% of exam questions required critical or independent thinking (i.e. were open-ended); this dropped to 8% if you only counted the compulsory macro and micro modules that form the core of economics education.
"Why we need to reform economics education" by Maeve Cohen, Director of Rethinking Economics, for the RSA
We should make sure that all new economists leave university understanding that their discipline is value-laden and inextricable from history, politics, philosophy and sociology. [...] Until [economists] recognise the expertise of citizens and the human costs of their policies, we will remain locked in a stalemate of an untrusting population and a floundering elite.
"The forward march of pluralists halted": Ha-Joon Chang, Pontus Rendahl and Cambridge students are interviewed by Varsity, the Cambridge student paper
[The Cambridge Society for Economic Pluralism] has carved itself a niche hosting diverse guest lecturers and making economics accessible to students outside the Tripos, but its radical goals of curriculum reform have been reduced to pluralism as a side-order.
Most introductory texts begin with the simplest of models. [...] Other disciplines are also taught simply at first. [...] The risk is low, however, that a student who drops a physics course will think he lives in a frictionless vacuum.
The Need for a new Economics (4 min. video, Mint Magazine)
Speakers from academia, politics and industry discuss directions in which the economics discipline is developing.
"We have theories and we have frameworks for economic activity which reattach markets to the real world; reattach markets to regulatory oversight, and therefore subordinate markets, in particular financial markets, to the interests of society." -Ann Pettifor
"Do we need a new kind of economics?" review of "The Econocracy", "The Reformation in Economics" and "Economism" by Martin Sandbu, FT
If a standard undergraduate economics education keeps these parts of economics away from students’ view, no wonder they come away disenchanted. But how is this a problem with neoclassical economics, and how is it solved by the methodological pluralism The Econocracy calls for?
By making their discipline all-pervasive, and pretending it is the physics of social science, economists have turned much of our democracy into a no-go zone for the public. This is the authors’ ultimate charge: “We live in a nation divided between a minority who feel they own the language of economics and a majority who don’t.”
I am not interested in an economics of competing theories and world views; we do better work as economists when we listen to these, confront them with evidence and careful statistical or logical reasoning, and try to establish a bit of knowledge – context-dependent and historically contingent as it might be.
A shift away from equilibrium theories towards complexity, evolutionary models and agent-based modelling would require massive changes for which students and perhaps academics are ill-prepared.
Economics teaching is still neglecting critical thought, post by the Rethinking Economics Network for the Guardian Economics blog
It is not an overstatement to say that economics students can go through their entire degree without once being asked to express an opinion. This neglect of critical thought and independent judgment is at odds with what employers of economics graduates need and what citizens expect from the experts responsible for the health of their economy.
Has the way universities teach economics changed enough? (article by Daniel Cullen for Guardian Higher Education Network)
This collaboration between students, lecturers and employers has begun to generate greater reflection on the way in which universities teach economics more generally.Quoted: Jeff Frank (Royal Holloway, University of London), Sara Gorgoni (University of Greenwich), Steve Keen (Kingston University), Alan Fernihough (Queen's University, Belfast), Constaninos Repapis (Goldsmiths, University of London)
BoomBustBoomBust (Conference at University of Manchester)
Special issue of the Independent Social Research Foundation Bulletin with articles on the need for reform in Economics teaching.
Economics degrees still 'too narrow in focus' (article in Times Higher Education)
The broad picture is clear – and largely confirms concerns which have been expressed by students in the UK and round the world. Regardless of the country in which they are taught, economics degrees are highly mathematical, adopt a single narrow perspective and put little emphasis on historical context, critical thinking or real-world applications.
Economics Curriculum Reform in British Universities: the role played by the Society of Business Economists by Ian Harwood, Society of Business Economists
[T]he Society of Business Economists submitted an online questionnaire to its members, [...] Overall, the results indicated a widespread dissatisfaction on the part of economic practitioners with the "standard" Economics curriculum.
The student protestors have now been joined by a growing number of employers and professional economists. [Day] asks why some universities are rushing to change what they teach and others are refusing to budge.
John Kay (Columnist, Financial Times), Ralf Becker (University of Manchester), Yuan Yang (Rethinking Economics Network), Ian Harwood (Society of Business Economists), Ha-Joon Chang (University of Cambridge), Sara Gorgoni (University of Greenwich) and several student activists are among the interviewees.
Video: 18-minute debate between two Masters students (co-founders of the Student Initiative for Rethinking Economics in the Netherlands) and Pieter Gautier of VU University Amsterdam
You say you have to exclude everything that is irrelevant and in our education that means that you exclude everything that you can't express in numbers. [...] Power, politics, social relations between people, culture...
On page 8 of the Economics Network Newsletter, Alvin Birdi (University of Bristol) reports from an Economics Network/ Bank of England event on Revisiting the State of Economics Education
Back in 2012 the time was ripe to focus on whether and why to change the curriculum. By 2015 the issue had turned almost squarely to the practicalities, barriers and successes of implementing curriculum reform.
"Teaching economics" - a comment article by Margaret Stevens, University of Oxford for RES Newsletter
Economics is not a religion, and we should not be looking for a doctrine or a prophet to tell us what to believe, still less a crowd of squabbling prophets.
"A note from Diane Coyle and Simon Wren-Lewis" in RES Newsletter
[M]any employers also say they would like graduates to know more economic history. However, they also want graduates with a strong command of econometrics and technical models[.]
Rob Ackrill (Nottingham Trent University) and Dean Garratt (University of Warwick) connect the curriculum debate to the discussion of increasing "elitism" in economics education (RES Newsletter)
Economics graduates should be able to enter into conversations about economics, or conversations about problems for which economics can help provide understanding and solutions. It is not simply the mastery of a set of methods.
Andrew Mearman (University of the West of England)'s piece in the RES Newsletter responding to Diane Coyle and Simon Wren-Lewis
[R]ather than being motivated by a concern to create educated citizens, economics teaching has been driven by a desire to train students in a set of concepts and techniques, designed to produce the next generation of economists.
Diane Coyle and Simon Wren Lewis respond to Andrew Mearman's critique of their article.
[T]hat economics degrees have a vocational purpose does not rule out some departments offering a more liberal arts approach to economics [...] [I]f departments do go down that route, it would appropriate for all concerned if they signal that clearly to both prospective students and potential employers.
17 February 2015
"Economics teaching in Trinity needs to get with the times" by Jonathan McKeon, Kevin Threadgold and Robert Wade; students at Trinity College, Dublin
We are not against simplification for modelling purposes [...] but against the often completely unrealistic nature of this “elimination of irrelevant detail” and the occasionally blatant political and moral assumptions underpinning an approach that masquerades as ‘value-free science’.
7 February 2015
"Teaching Economics: the demand side" an editorial in The Economist
Two rather different questions have been posed. One asks whether courses do a good job of equipping students with the most important insights from mainstream academic research. The other asks whether young economists should learn more than just today’s favoured approach.
"Economics as a pluralist liberal education" by the Post-Crash Economics Society in the RES Newsletter
Pluralist education does not begin and end by simply telling students multiple perspectives exist in economics. The next step is guiding [...] students towards developing reasoned judgements about which theories work best for certain questions or problems.
"Alternative economics: A new student movement" by Engelbert Stockhammer (Kingston University / Institute for New Economic Thinking) and Devrim Yilmaz (Kingston University)
It is hard for non-economists to appreciate how restricted the teaching of economics has become as a result of the dominant intellectual monoculture. Economics has one proper approach. There are no competing theories[.]
9 December 2014
"Financial crash: what’s wrong with economics?" by Diane Coyle and Andy Haldane in Prospect magazine (subscription required)
Universities are beginning to teach a range of economic philosophies.
2 December 2014
"Teaching Economics After the Crash": BBC Radio 4 programme hosted by Aditya Chakrabortty (The Guardian).
Now economics students around the world are demanding a radical change of course. In a manifesto signed by 65 university economics associations [...], students decry a 'dramatic narrowing of the curriculum'
3 December 2014
"Aditya Chakrabortty’s one sided Radio 4 polemic on economics" by Tony Yates (University of Bristol)
[It is] a distorting dramatisation, on account of allowing multiple silly, uninformed critiques to go unchallenged in the program. Yet presented as a reasonable, impartial take on what is going on in economics.
19 December 2014
"Thoughts on 'Teaching Economics After the Crash'" by Karl Whelan (University College, Dublin)
I viewed the programme as a hopelessly one-sided critique of the economics profession. Still, it was useful [...] because I think it’s worth engaging a bit more positively with the criticisms raised.
22 December 2014
"Inconsistent Criticism: A response to Tony Yates" by the Post Crash Economics Society, University of Manchester
Calling 38 minutes coverage on Radio 4 (which is shorter than one lecture) of students asking for a broader economics education "propaganda", while ignoring the lack of contestation in economics education is surely inconsistent and misguided.
4 January 2015
"Response to Tony Yates’ Critique of 'Teaching Economics After the Crash'" by Rob Jump and Jo Mitchell (UWE, Bristol)
Chakrabortty’s programme was explicitly concerned with teaching economics [...] Yates’ response is mainly concerned with academic and professional economics in general[.]
27 November 2014
"The Post-Crash Crisis in Economics" (Youtube video): by Devrim Yilmaz (Kingston University). Lecturing in Helsinki, the tutor for the unofficial "Bubbles, Panics, and Crashes" course at the University of Manchester gives a historical context to the current wave of student activism and gives his perspective on the mainstream/heterodox debate.
16 November 2014
"How Should Economics Change?" (Youtube video): a panel session hosted by the Post-Crash Economics Society at the University of Manchester. Diane Coyle of Enlightenment Economics, Steve Keen of Kingston University, and "Money, Blood and Revolution" author George Cooper give contrasting perspectives on what is wrong with Economics, and answer questions from a student audience.
2 October 2014
"Building a new economics for the #Occupy generation" by Wendy Carlin (University College London / Institute for New Economic Thinking)
For decades students around the world have experienced economics as a kind of endless boot camp that never quite engages with reality. [...] One response has been the CORE project, which has brought together economists [...] from around the world to change the old way of doing things.
10 October 2014
"Disillusionment of the First Year Economist" by Nathaniel Darling, student, published by Cambridge Society for Economic Pluralism
Equipped now with some intermediate mathematics, and models relying heavily on assumptions that clearly do not hold in the outside world, I feel no better able to understand or explain complex social phenomena than I did one year ago.
"Necessary pluralism in economics: the case for heterodoxy: Royal Economic Society newsletter article by Jamie Morgan (Leeds Beckett University / Association for Heterodox Economics)
The argument for inter-disciplinarity is rooted in the plurality of issues that arise in the effective study of an economy [...]. As such, economics in order to effectively educate its students must expose them to different ways one can explore and theorise an economy.
"Changing the Subject": Economics Network article by Alvin Birdi (University of Bristol / Economics Network) with an extensive bibliography of articles, books, and blog posts. Start here for an overview of the debate.
The Economics Network has compiled its own user’s guide to the ins and outs of the debate with reference mainly to issues of teaching and curriculum.
Economics, Education and Unlearning, report by the Post-Crash Economics Society, University of Manchester, with a foreword from Andy Haldane, Bank of England, and
They explore the existing curriculum in careful detail, displaying the narrow theoretical monoculture which characterises [...] most economics degree courses in the UK and, indeed, the world. They outline what they think the curriculum should be: a programme geared to the problems of the actual economy through history, using the diversity of analyses that have developed through the years. -comment by Prof Victoria Chick, UCL
12 April 2014
"New Economic Thinking" (YouTube video): Wendy Carlin, David Colander, Oscar Landerretche, Perry Mehrling, and John Smithin discuss possibilities for reform of the curriculum.