Radio 4 record economics curriculum debate

Dat Nguyen 13 October 2014

Last Friday, the Cambridge Society for Economic Pluralism (CSEP) hosted a panel of three high-profile economists to discuss the curriculum reform in economics. This comes after there has been widespread criticism of how the discipline is taught.

The event is part of a broader student movement that has voiced its discontent with the economics discipline: citing a perceived detachment from the real world and a failure to comprehend the financial crisis. Other movements include the high profile student run Post-Crash Economics Society at the University of Manchester.

The debate was recorded by BBC Radio 4.

The speakers who attended the event are each working on a separate new curriculum. Professor Wendy Carlin of UCL presented the CORE project, already introduced at various universities. It sets up to teach economics 'as if the last three decades have happened', devoting more attention to institutional contexts, failures of the market mechanism and empirical content.

 However, not all students were convinced. One of the attendees commented: “CORE's changes are insubstantial. Same curriculum, just more student-friendly (pictures, data, etc). But little change to content really,”

Lord Robert Skidelsky was highly critical of Prof. Carlin’s proposal, highlighting a need for a more fundamental reform, with philosophy of science, methodological concerns and other schools of economic thought as the foundation and not an optional afterthought.

‘Economists don't have the right tools. We can't teach the status quo,’ he concluded,

The new chair of the Faculty of Economics at Cambridge, Professor Sanjeev Goyal, admitted that, although mathematisation of economics was beneficial, it has come at a cost: “We lose out on history, on the ability to write”. Prof. Goyal was sympathetic with the students’ demands, but called for an evolutionary approach. The Faculty of Economics is currently reviewing the curriculum.

If a packed lecture hall on a Friday night was anything to go by, curriculum reform has become a major concern for students. ‘What we do here may not offer immediate answers, but it can be a catalyst for future changes’, said Michel Ghassibe, CSEP’s committee member.