Manchester students take on economics curriculum in report

The economics curriculum at the University of Manchester is too narrow and is stifling innovation, according to a student action group

April 22, 2014

A report published by the Post-Crash Economics Society, which comprises Manchester economics students and is campaigning for the university to update its economics curriculum to reflect the recent financial crisis, claims that the syllabus in its current state requires “significant reform”.

“Our economics education has raised one paradigm, often referred to as neoclassical economics, to the sole object of study,” the report claims.

“Alternative perspectives have been marginalised. This stifles innovation, damages creativity and suppresses constructive criticisms that are so vital for economic understanding.”

It goes on to say that the study of ethics, politics and history are “almost completely absent from the syllabus”, adding that economics “cannot be understood” with these aspects excluded.

“At Manchester economics education as it currently stands fails to meet the University’s own standards for an undergraduate degree,” it says, adding that a lack of diversity within the discipline “leads to hubris”.

Earlier this year, the society urged students to hold back from filling in the National Student Survey until the university made a decision on whether to update its economics curriculum.

Although the report focuses on Manchester, its authors claim it is representative of “widespread discontent” with university economics syllabi. Societies that are similar to the PCES have been established at the London School of Economics, the universities of Cambridge, Sheffield, Glasgow and Essex, University College London, and Soas, University of London.

The report “suggests a groundswell, not just of interest but of concern, among the student population about the current shape of the economics curriculum among UK universities”, writes Andrew Haldane, executive director for financial stability at the Bank of England, in the report’s foreword.

“The power of economics is that it affects real lives in real ways; it matters,” he continues. “And it is because it matters and because it affects us all that the profession, still fledgling, needs to be in a perpetual state of renewal.”

The report states that because “Austrian, post-Keynesian, Marxist, feminist and ecological economics are almost completely absent” from the curriculum, students are denied the chance to develop meaningful critical thinking and evaluation.

Writing on the PCES website, Stephen Davies, education director at the Institute of Economic Affairs, says the report addressed “a real need, for a more pluralistic and varied approach to the economics curriculum at university level”.

Victoria Chick, emeritus professor of economics at University College London and co-founder of the Post-Keynesian Economics Study Group, describes the report as “required reading for every head of an economics department”.

“[It explores] the existing curriculum in careful detail, displaying the narrow theoretical monoculture which characterises not only Manchester’s curriculum but most economics degree courses in the UK and, indeed, the world,” she adds.

A University of Manchester spokesman said: “Our students have been leading a national debate on the way economics is taught in higher education, and the ensuing debate has been positive, useful and informative.

“We welcome the publication of this report and will look forward to studying its conclusions.”

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