Economist says his subject's turnaround is 'delayed benefit' of wage hikes

January 1, 2009

Of all the disciplines evaluated in the research assessment exercise, economics appears to be in the rudest of health.

Research in this category earned a grade-point average of 3.01 out of 4, the highest of any discipline, with per cent of all research in the field judged to be 4*.

Andrew Oswald, professor of economics at the University of Warwick, said this was a turnaround from a decade ago, when the discipline in the UK was being held back by uncompetitive salaries.

"We were keeping academic wages artificially low and that couldn't be sustained. This improvement in performance - and I'm sorry to sound like an economist - is a delayed benefit of wages being allowed to rise, which has enabled us to attract people internationally."

Sir John Vickers, professor of economics at the University of Oxford and president of the Royal Economics Society, said: "In the pre-[Second World] War decades, this country was the centre of economics, then a lot of the action moved to the US.

"But now, whereas there might have been quite serious concerns about the state of UK economics 20 years ago, we have proved to be very resilient.

"A lot of excellent research talent has been developed here, but also attracted from outside, the opposite of the brain drain people spoke about in the 1980s."

He said anecdotal evidence suggested that the world economic crisis had driven a surge in student interest in the subject, too.

Professor Oswald agreed: "There will be more applications to masters and PhD programmes, and many talented young people will think that economics is a very important subject that we need to understand better."

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