Making a push for fresh economics syllabi

By Parvathi Menon on Mar. 09, 2015 in Perspectives

Campaign for a more relevant economics syllabus initiated in many leading campuses worldwide

The financial crisis, economic inequality and climate change are topics that would appear to be par for the course, especially if the course is economics.

However, in departments of economics in leading international universities — including Britain — this is not the case. Economics classroom teaching at the undergraduate teaching is so divorced from real world economic issues — a fact brought glaringly to the fore during the global financial crisis — that a major campaign for a more relevant economics syllabus was initiated in many leading campuses worldwide post the crash.

In the U.K., students and teachers across the country came under the umbrella campaign group Rethinking Economics, which has been pressing for post-crash curriculum reform in universities. Recently an international collaboration of concerned economists released a new set of free and downloadable course material for first year economics students that aims to teach the subject “as if the last 30 years had happened.” ‘The Economy,’ an e-book produced by the CORE Project, was released on February 17.

The Rethinking Economics campaign for more relevant economics classroom teaching at the undergraduate level was only one of the many reasons propelling the CORE project, Professor Wendy Carlin from the University College, London, told The Hindu. The CORE team was also responding to the need to reflect the developments in the subject over the last 30 years in new syllabi.

“There is a lot of new economics related to both the dynamic side of capitalism — relating to innovation and wealth creation – and on the pathology of capitalism – on inequality, instability and ecological unsustainability,” Professor Carlin told TheHindu.

The ebook and course is currently being piloted at University College London, Sciences Po in Paris and the University of Massachusetts, Boston.

It will be piloted later this year at partner universities in Australia, Italy and India, where the Azim Premji University in Bangalore will use it for its very first intake of economics degree students this year.

Economics teaching had got “ossified” over the last 30 year, Prof Carlin argues.

“The major problem was that economics came to be taught in a very abstract way. Students were taught tools but were not taught how to apply those tools to real world problems,” she said, a situation that became alarmingly apparent during the global financial crisis.

Students, though they did very well in their studies, were unable to explain why policies chosen by governments and central banks led to the crisis.

“They were being taught models that just were really inappropriate for understanding modern macroeconomic development. And because those standard models became the easy thing to teach everyone learnt them. Somehow, nobody quite asked why,” she said.

The beta version of The Economy is now available to anyone for free online at: http://core-econ.org/



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