Challenges before changing the mainstream economics curriculum

Diana Coyle of Enlightenment economics has been one of the major econs asking for a change in economics curriculum. In her recent piece, she reflects on the recent proposals to reform econ teaching.

She says there is undersatnding that curriculum needs to change. But not much on how to change it especially with respect to the building blocks (neo-classical school). Some say to relook at the building blocks, others say they are fine:

Even a relatively minimal interpretation implies a substantial amount of change in many undergraduate economics programmes. In many universities, the core curriculum settled into a predictable rut. This interacted with two factors: (i) incentives for academic research to focus on technical increments to knowledge – contributions aimed solely at professional peers, and (ii) rising teaching loads and student numbers stemming from pressures on university finances.

Despite the great interest in reform among economists teaching undergraduate courses, change will take some time as these various barriers are overcome.

There is probably the widest agreement about changes such as:

  • Re-introducing elements of economic history into core modules;
  • Incorporating some issues on the frontiers of research into undergraduate teaching;
  • Encouraging inter-disciplinary interest; and
  • Ensuring students are taught key skills such as data handling and good communication.

A number of economists have commented on the desirability of updating the curriculum to reflect interesting areas of research and ‘real world’ examples (see e.g. Seabright 2013).

More disagreement exists when it comes to the question of the character of economics itself, and the extent to which the experience of the past six years calls the mainstream of the subject into question. Andrew Haldane, newly appointed as chief economist of the Bank of England, argues: “It is time to rethink some of the basic building blocks of economics.” (Post-Crash Economics Society 2014: 4.) Student groups campaigning for reform would clearly agree on the need for a radical reinterpretation of what should be in the core courses or modules.

There is some overlap between their views and those of the mainstream. For example, the UK working group cited above also recommended greater pluralism in economics: “Hostility towards other approaches is the antithesis of a dynamic self-critical discipline that is genuinely seeking to discover new and better ways of understanding the world.”

Whatever the outcome of this debate, we might see a new curriculum going ahead:

This is therefore a debate with some distance to go, and not least because of the international character of the academic discipline. It seems highly unlikely, though, that undergraduate economics courses will not have changed considerably in character five or ten years from now.

I mean a perfect case of how reforms take time and their are many challenges. Most econs crticise delays to reform things they think are obvious truths. They say why does it take so much time? This question should be asked of them too!

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