The narrowing of the Australian University economics curriculum

This looks like a global problem but nothing much is done. Most places complain how econ curriculum has become narrow over the years focusing just on neo-classical and math related stuff (or should I call it math and econ related stuff!!) and ignoring the other areas like history, economic development etc etc.

As this blog keeps saying econs do not have a problem of just fixing economic policy but even economic teaching.

Here is another of such papers which shows analytically how the econ curriculum has become narrower in Australia’s econ univs.:

This paper examines the recent evolution of the Australian economics curriculum. First, it examines 2011 survey evidence produced by the Economic Society of Australia that shows that the Australian economics profession wishes to see a broadening and updating of what is taught. These findings are then related to an analysis of the curriculum in both 1980 and 2011 to see if the curriculum is moving in the desired  direction. It is shown that the curriculum is not moving in the desired direction, becoming narrower, rather than broader. It has also not kept up to date with important advances in economic knowledge. It is argued that there are strong intellectual and practical benefits that would come from remedying this situation.

..There are strong practical arguments for updating and (re) broadening the curriculum. First, it would be in accordance with what the majority of the economics profession wants. Second, subjects that better reflect the many advances in our knowledge since 1980 are likely to resonate well with students and with employers. Third, rebuilding the social science wing of the discipline may also bring back a long-lost constituency of students into economics departments. Fourth, and most importantly, we will produce better graduates. Whilst there are some institutional obstacles that stand in the way of an updated and (re)broadened curriculum, these could be managed around, thus bringing about a level of expansion, diversity and synergy that would be to the benefit of all.

The paper also and obviosuly points the decline of teaching econ history across Aus departments. Some interesting reasons:

Economics 1 was a full-year (two-semester) subject. It is possible that the general move in universities to eliminate full-year subjects and replace them with half-year (one-semester) subjects contributed to the narrowing of the curriculum. When a subject like Economics 1 is converted into a one-semester subject, the neoclassical component is not the content that is discarded. It is the non-neoclassical component that gives way, either being moved into a different subject or, more likely, dropped from the curriculum entirely.

There are many other examples similar to that of Flinders University. In 1980 at La Trobe University, both first-year microeconomics and macroeconomics had as textbooks Lipsey’s Introduction to Positive Economics and Samuelson’s Economics, yet this was balanced by also having Hunt and Sherman’s Economics: An Introduction to Traditional and Radical Views as a textbook. Second-year microeconomics also had Samuelson and Lipsey as textbooks, but this was counter-balanced by Stilwell’s Normative Economics: An Introduction to Microeconomic Theory and Radical Critiques. Second-year macro utilised Kregel’s The Reconstruction of Political Economy, Kalecki’s Selected Essays on the Dynamics of the Capitalist Economy 1933-1970 and Keynes’s, General Theory.

History Profs have responded innovatively:

A notable feature of how economic historians have responded to the decline of enrolments is that they have sought to name and rename subjects that are more in keeping with the vocational preoccupations of their students. The word history has regularly been purged from economics history subjects, or at least, leavened with something carrying suitably business or vocational connotations; the words ‘modern’, ‘global’, ‘globalisation’, ‘business’ and ‘contemporary’ are all standard words used to rebrand economic history in the curriculum. Once students are enrolled in these subjects they generally find them rewarding. It is just a matter of working around their initial prejudices. 

The strategy of rebranding economic history can be quite successful. At Monash University, a subject that looked at the economic history of East Asia since 1945 was   cannily titled ‘Business in Asia.’ When I enrolled in this subject in 1998 it had 330 students.  La Trobe University has followed a similar pattern of playing down thehistorical and emphasising the modern or global. First year economic history was renamed in 2010 as History of Globalisation with an immediate improvement in enrolments. Second-year economic history has been called Modern World Economy since 1992. Third-year economic history is called Growth and Decline in the Global economy.

So much so for econ history’s survival.

Nice bit…


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