The Economics Student

University students who are studying economics are demanding a change. What is taking place in the real world is not the same thing taught in the classroom. Why is the reality not being covered?

Pressure groups

The Post-Crash Economics Society at the University of Manchester has received much coverage for its campaigning, while the Rethinking Economics network is connecting like-minded groups at universities throughout the UK. Both have links with the wider International Student Initiative for Pluralism in Economics.

Student critics have been backed up by prominent academics such as Robert Skidelsky and Ha-Joon Chang and a Reteaching Economics group has been founded alongside the student movement. Meanwhile, surveys of employers have uncovered industry demand for changes to university programmes, identifying areas for improvement in the skills and knowledge of economics graduates.

New modules

Now a growing number of UK universities are implementing changes to adapt their degrees to a “post-crisis” world. For some institutions, this has meant the launch of additional modules within existing undergraduate programmes.

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It is not only the students who believe that the curriculum is betraying them. Even the teachers believe that change is a must.

Andrew Haldane, chief economist to the Bank of England says: ‘It is time to rethink some of the basic building blocks of economics.”

He is not alone in saying so. Many professional and academic economists agree. And teachers of economics in universities all over the world are on the frontline of this reform.

The events of 2008-9 led economists – like everyone else – to reflect on the role the subject had played in creating the conditions for financial crisis.

It prompted efforts to broaden the curriculum, and question what had become an approach to teaching economics disconnected both from real-world problems and from current economic research.

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Economics used to be taught in high school but that is not the case today. One of the reasons it was dropped is that teachers themselves did not understand the subject matter.


1. K-12 teachers do not themselves understand economics.

2. It is much easier to teach and test historical facts and Spanish grammar than economic concepts. Note that many high school economics classes seem to devote a lot of attention to business taxonomy rather than actually thinking like an economist.

3. K-12 administrators may be hostile to economic reasoning, since said reasoning may paint some of them in a less than flattering light.

Anything else? That all said, AP economics seems to be growing at a decent clip over the last twenty years, and in some states such as Texas senior-level economics is now required. But at lower levels? The progress is much less evident.

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