The Post Crash Economics Society (PCES) is a group of economics students who believe there is something missing from our education. Economics is a central issue in the modern world and yet what we are taught is disconnected from the economics we hear about every day: recessions, inequality, immigration, the NHS, austerity and the digital revolution. Instead of studying these crucial issues and the different perspectives on them, students only learn about the neoclassical school of thought. This means economics graduates are ill-equipped to deal with the problems faced by the world today, which is why PCES are campaigning for reforms to the curriculum so that it is more pluralistic, critical and connected to the real world.
PCES set up in 2013 in response to the lack of change in the curriculum following the 2008 financial crisis. This crisis had caught economists, policymakers and politicians completely off guard, with the most widely used economic theories at the time unable to account for even the possibility of such an event. The effects of the crisis are still being felt today by everyone – economics students or otherwise – with GDP only recently having returned to its post-crisis level, 7 years on. Yet our education made little to no mention of the crisis and how it had happened, focusing instead on toy theories and repetitive mathematics. We realised that there was a problem with our economics education, not only in its failure to account for the crisis but also in its failure to address the kind of important economic issues we had expected an economics education to address. We produced a report outlining these problems in detail.
Economics students may understandably ask why this should matter to them. Even if there are problems with the current curriculum, are they really so central as to justify revamping the entire thing? Would trying to make economics all things to all people not risk making the learning experience more confusing than enlightening? What would students stand to gain from these kinds of changes?
We appreciate that most students are more concerned about finding a good job at the end of their studies than they are about having endless conversations over the Chinese government’s strategy for economic growth since 1979. But it is worth noting that many employers – including the Bank of England and Government Economic Service – have complained that economics graduates lack real world skills after spending too much time dealing in abstract theory. An ex-Goldman Sachs executive told us that he always had to spend a year reteaching economics graduates so that they could handle real world problems. At an RES event in Manchester a couple of years ago an employers’ representative actually endorsed a pluralistic approach to economics, wanting students to have a broad knowledge so they could tell which theory was best suited to the problem at hand. Curriculum reform would directly benefit those students who want to go on to work for the biggest economic institutions, and given the important nature of these institutions would also benefit society as a whole.
PCES also believe that a pluralist curriculum would be more interesting for students during their time at university. The current curriculum encourages students simply to memorise and regurgitate theories with little to no real world context, so it’s no surprise people may not be interested in understanding economics beyond what’s needed for the exam. A better curriculum would engage students with the content of their degree from start to finish, as well as giving them the skills they need for what they do in the future – whether this is going on to a job in the City, staying in academia or working for the government. This is why PCES are actively campaigning for changes which move the curriculum in this direction.
A PCES-style curriculum would take an inductive approach, leading with the real world instead of theory. Rather than being introduced to a bag full of theories which exist in a vacuum, then told to repeat and solve them over and over, students would be introduced to an important real world economic issue: economic development; the environment; the business cycle. Students would learn about this issue from an empirical perspective, drawing on history, statistics, case studies and other appropriate tools. Only after gaining an understanding of the problem would they be introduced to multiple theories, each of which purported to explain the problem and offer solutions. The emphasis would be on how well equipped the theory was to the problem at hand and the student would have to come to their own conclusion about this and argue their case. We demonstrated this was possible in the academic year 2013-14 by running a voluntary evening module entitled ‘Bubbles, Panics and Crashes’, taught by the lecturer Devrim Yilmaz. You can read more about this module here.
The Manchester economics department are presently planning to reform the curriculum for 2015-16 and PCES will be involved in the discussions, lobbying for changes to modules that make modules focus more on the context of theories, their real world applications and also, where possible, introduce other perspectives. PCES are also trying to design their own module on the economics of inequality and get it taught through the University College Learning program, as an optional module available for all Manchester students. However, to illustrate the necessity of these changes, we need student support! For the past 2 years we have run petitions, both of which were signed by 250+ students, calling for a new module which incorporates perspectives other than mainstream economics. We need to show the department that students care and that we have staying power.
We therefore ask you to get involved any way you want to: coming to our events, posting on the blog, challenging your lecturers, contacting us, or coming to see us at the Student’s Union for our fortnightly Pint with Post Crash. Everyone is welcome, whether you agree, disagree, have no real opinion or want to talk about something else!