Employability in an Applied Economics module

Jon Guest, Dean Garratt, Matt Olczak, Geetha Ravishankar, and Robert Riegler, Aston University
Written for the Employability Skills Research Project, June 2019

The module

Topics in Applied Economics is a compulsory Level 4 module starting in 2019/2020, delivering to roughly 200 students. It has been designed by staff in the Department of Economics, Finance and Entrepreneurship at Aston University to develop the students’ knowledge, application and communication of economic ideas. These are the core competences identified by the Government Economic Service (GES), the largest employer of economists in the UK.

The module introduces students to a wide range of topics and issues that are of interest to economists, many of which have a public policy dimension, including some which students many not immediately associate with the discipline or which they may be less familiar with. It will cover contemporary issues such as growth, inequality and international trade and apply economics analysis to markets as diverse as sport, beer and social media. The aim is to show the myriad of issues that economic analysis can be applied to and to show the breadth of traditions within the discipline.

As well as enabling students to apply economic concepts and ideas to analyse a range of real-world issues, the module places a particular emphasis on the ability of students to communicate and present economic arguments to a range of audiences. This is recognition of the importance attached by employers of economists, such as the GES, to graduates being able to apply the toolkit of economics to a variety of different issues and communicate the insights provided to both economists and non-economists. This ability to communicate appropriately and effectively requires flexibility and adaptability in communication.

Assessment

Developing policy, for example as government economists, involves working and consulting with a range of stakeholders. Therefore, one element of the assessment for the module is students working as part of a group managing a policy-focused consultancy project. They choose a policy issue and put together a consultancy report to argue the case for a particular approach or intervention, based on economic theory and empirical evidence. Thus they experience what it is like to design and then communicate a public policy intervention to different stakeholders, including the general public. This mirrors a type of work that many professional economists undertake.

The other assessment element is a 1-hour, end-of-module, open-book examination. This is directly linked to the threshold concepts of the discipline. These are the fundamental ideas that help students of economics to better understand what it means to think like an economist. They are incredibly important in public policy and, more generally, in undertaking economic analysis. There has been increasing recognition of the importance of better embedding these in the HE economics curriculum. The open-book examination allows students to show their understanding of one or more of these threshold concepts by reference to a real-world issue or problem of their choice. Students are able to work on this before the examination and bring with them notes on one side of A4 paper. This allows them to develop important research skills. The time-constrained element of the exercise mirrors the importance to professional economists of being able to communicate effectively, coherently and, of course, succinctly.

Skills developed by this activity

Skill/capability

 

Communication

 

Writing for academic audience

 

Writing for non-academic audience

Yes

Presentation to academic audience

 

Presentation to non-academic audience

Yes

Application to real world

 

Applying economics to real world context

Yes

Solving policy or commercial problems

Yes

Simplifying complex ideas/information to make them accessible to wide audience

Yes

Data analysis

 

Sourcing and organising quantitative data

Yes

Analysing and interpreting quantitative data

Yes

Fluency with excel

 

Fluency with statistical/econometric packages

 

Collaboration

 

Team-working with economists

Yes

Collaboration with non-economists

 

Wider employability skills

 

Flexibility

 

Creativity and imagination

Yes

Independent thinking

Yes

Can do attitude

 

Reliability

 

Resilience

 

Commercial awareness

 

Time management

Yes

Project management/organisational skills

Yes