I write in response to the article “Manchester students take on economics curriculum in report”, News, www.timeshighereducation.co.uk, 22 April, and from the vantage point of having just organised a conference with the Economic and Social Research Council at the University of Essex on “Diversity in macroeconomics: new perspectives from agent-based computational, complexity and behavioural economics”.
In 2012 at a similar conference, the ESRC with the Oxford Martin School urged that “action is taken to catalyse new approaches to macroeconomic questions and help develop the discipline’s responses, perhaps in partnership with other disciplines within or beyond social science”.
Like the University of Manchester Post-Crash Economics Society, the programme committee in 2014 noted that the mono-culture in established research and teaching of economics is also marked by its irrelevance to the post-2007 crisis period and a growing skills gap in dealing with “big data”, real-time systems and a largely protean and fast-evolving financial, monetary and industrial environment. In response to concerns of students on the lack of diversity in economics, the conference held a panel discussion that included two student representatives from the Essex and Cambridge PCESs.
Apropos the research excellence framework in the Manchester PCES Report, it is hoped that the “impact” criterion in the REF will counter the regimentation of academic economics where path-breaking monographs and books have given way to narrowly designated journal articles.
The clamour for change is coming from those at the coalface of policy, such as from central banks and the Treasury. UK academic economists have been slow to respond because under the iron rod of the REF, it involves a lot of personal risk to break away from the mainstream. At Essex, in a more benign period, I was able to develop a postgraduate research and teaching curriculum in economics (MSc Computational Economics, Financial Markets and Policy) that uses a non-mainstream complexity and heterogeneous agent-based approach. Sadly, I’m in a very small minority among economists.
Professor of economics
University of Essex