Economics degree course drops 21% in National Student Survey

Manchester students criticise ‘flagship’ programme’s lack of alternative perspectives

November 13, 2014

Source: Getty

Crash course: students were critical of the university’s decision not to offer the module ‘Bubbles, Panics and Crashes’

A “flagship” economics programme at the University of Manchester has seen student satisfaction levels fall by more than a fifth, which campaigners claim is due to its failure to reflect alternative economic perspectives.

According to results and comments from the 2014 National Student Survey, shown to Times Higher Education by the University of Manchester Post-Crash Economics Society, overall satisfaction with economics at Manchester has slipped by 7 percentage points compared with last year. For the bachelor of economic science programme, described by the university as its “flagship degree programme in modern, quantitative economics”, levels are down 21 per cent. Economics courses at the institution now rate 12 percentage points lower than the Russell Group average.

The PCES is a student-led pressure group that campaigns for changes to economics education. It said the results demonstrated how disappointed students are with the university’s decision not to offer a module entitled “Bubbles, Panics and Crashes”, which the society felt would have incorporated the alternative economic perspectives that they wish to see included. In March, the PCES called on students to “hold fire on filling in their NSS” until the university had decided whether it would offer the module. It opted not to, and a lecturer who had taught the course as an optional out-of-hours module last year did not have his temporary contract renewed.

A number of comments submitted as part of the NSS, seen by THE, reflected this disappointment. “There have been no instances of alternative economic theories being presented other than neoclassical,” said one. “This means I feel unable to understand the way the economy and agents behave outside of mathematical models.”

“Thinking outside of the box is not encouraged,” wrote another, with a third saying: “The university has merely taught me how to take exams.”

One said they were “very disappointed in the way the university has dealt with requests from students to change the way economic science is taught at university”, while another added that they “do not appreciate…such a broad subject being taught in such a mind-numbing and narrow way”, adding: “To put it simply, I used to really enjoy economics before I came to university and now I do not.”

One student described the university’s decision not to offer the Bubbles module as “breathtaking arrogance and ignorance”, while another said it demonstrated “that it is not listening to my voice on the matter of teaching alternative schools of economic thought”.

A Manchester spokesman said the NSS results relating to the BEconSc were “a concern, and a puzzle” given that other programmes that shared many of its modules had improved on overall student satisfaction.

It was disappointing, he added, that the PCES had campaigned for students to use the NSS “strategically” – something that “may have adversely affected last year’s results”.

He said the university had responded by working with all its current students “to understand their real concerns so that we can improve the student experience”.

This has resulted in changes to assessment practices and the imminent introduction of changes governing class sizes and enhanced contact time with academic staff.

He added that the economics department had taken “a number of steps to enhance its curriculum”, including the introduction of new modules in economic policy and behavioural economics, and that the university was conducting a “wide-ranging curriculum review of our core economics programmes”.

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Reader's comments (1)

For interested parties, the following was the University of Manchester's full response to this article. The Economics Department in Manchester has taken a number of steps to enhance its curriculum over the last year: the appointment of Diane Coyle, a leading figure in the national and international Economics curriculum reform debate, as (part-time) Professor of Economics; the introduction of new modules in Economic Policy and Behavioural Economics, and the further incorporation into our specialist programmes of more interdisciplinary options, specifically in global political economy. In addition, we are conducting a wide-ranging curriculum review of our core economics programmes that will benefit not only our specialist Economics students but also those who wish to study Economics as part of a general Social Science degree. We are a large department with a wide range of staff interest, which allows us to teach a more extensive range of subjects than most universities - including environmental, natural resource and development economics - and claims that the range of modules on offer do not address real-world issues is demonstrably untrue. Some 1300 students currently take courses with us, both specialist and non-specialist, and we receive very favourable feedback from the vast majority of these students through the course of the academic year – 2 members of staff in Economics have won University, national and international teaching awards this year. The dialogue with PCES has thus far been valuable, and we hope it will continue to be so, but our understanding was that PCES wished to move forward the debate on general Economics curriculum reform in a constructive and collegial manner, and that this debate should not be confined necessarily to Manchester. It is therefore disappointing that PCES have confirmed (in the information they supplied to the Times Higher) that it campaigned for students to consider using NSS strategically on one issue, which may have adversely affected last year’s results. Nevertheless, last year's NSS BEconSc result is a concern, and a puzzle given that other undergraduate programmes that share many of its modules have improved on overall student satisfaction, and that our Masters programmes have performed very well in the corresponding postgraduate survey. Whilst curriculum review and its integration into a broad Manchester social science education continues this year, our immediate response has been to work with all our current students and their representatives to understand their real concerns so that we can improve the student experience. This has resulted in changes to assessment practices and the imminent introduction of changes governing non-lecture class sizes and enhanced contact time with academic staff, both within these classes and more generally within the Department.