Multiply your degree options

Economics degrees come in all shapes and sizes. But you may need maths, says James Morrison
Click to follow
The Independent Online

nce upon a time, degrees in economics were much of a muchness: a crash course in Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill followed by a thorough schooling in monetary and fiscal policy .

Today there are as many different ways of studying economics as there are universities teaching it. About 150 single subject undergraduate courses are now run, across 66 institutions. And the transfer of some faculties to university business schools, combined with changing demands from the commercial sector, has led to a renewed emphasis on maths.

From general BAs designed to give students a solid, transferable grounding in the subject to intensely statistical BSc programmes aimed squarely at tomorrow's merchant bankers, the range of straight economics degrees is now huge. Then there are the increasingly imaginative combinations. Traditional options, like the University of Bristol's BA in economics and history, have been joined by such pairings as Kingston University's BA in applied economics with creative writing, and the University of Salford's BSc in business economics with gambling studies.

The easiest way to narrow your options is to ask yourself how good you are at maths. The accountancy-driven nature of today's working environment is encouraging universities to place greater emphasis on the ability of students not only to understand economic theories but to apply them - which means serious number-crunching.

Many courses are now insisting on A-level maths or equivalent as a basic entry requirement. One university now demanding this is the London School of Economics. Senior lecturer Dr Jonathan Leape says its signature BSc programmes have become more mathematically oriented in response to the growing number of vacancies for professional economists in industries like banking.

"We want to get our students to a point where they have enough skills to work as an economist, rather than just using economics in some other capacity," he explains. "If you were going to study French literature you wouldn't apply if you didn't speak the language, so they need to be able to do maths."

With nine Nobel Prize-winners to its name and alumni including George Soros, the LSE has an international reputation for excellence in its field. This goes some way to explaining its popularity among overseas students. Of its 665 current economics undergraduates, 75 per cent are non-UK citizens - 25 per cent higher than the national average.

The University of Sussex's department of economics offers a wide portfolio of single subject degrees, from a straight BA or BSc to variants that include one-year options in languages, development or management studies. Only BSc applicants require maths A-level, but BA students still have to endure a compulsory course in the subject during their first year, says department head Andrew Newell.

"This is a social science, not a business degree," he says, "but we want to give you analytical skills that will be of use in the job market."

One student who has benefited from the flexibility of Sussex's economics options is Phil Mader, 21, who is nearing the end of a BA in economics with development studies. Mader, who only has maths to GCSE level, says: "Economics gives you a sound foundation to understand a lot of things going on in the world, but I've found development studies even more useful. I now want to go into journalism."

Flexibility is also a feature of the economics courses offered by Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU), one of several ex-polytechnics to have adapted this traditionally academic subject into a vocational discipline. Here, A-level maths is a prerequisite for acceptance onto a BSc - but, while those without it have to enrol on a BA instead, they may transfer at the end of their first year if they have shown sufficient potential in the subject.

Admissions tutor and senior lecturer Jamil Khan, himself a MMU economics graduate, cites its BA and BSc business economics degrees as those best placed to find students related employment: "They are designed for those who want to see economics applied to business or financial activity. Most of our students are destined for the business or commercial world."