Have we been keeping pace in the new world order?

Economics has needed to change in the post-crash era, and a small band of universities are meeting this challenge

Thursday 03 March 2016 17:36 GMT
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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

Many things were changed forever by the recession, and new theories are evolving to try and make sense of the constant turbulence, and often contradictory pressures, caused by different market forces.

But has the teaching of economics in our universities kept pace with the new world order? It’s an important question to ask. After all, it’s today’s economics students who will be playing a huge part in shaping tomorrow’s economy.

Dr Tim Hinks, the economics programme leader at University of the West of England, Bristol (UWE Bristol) Business School, doesn't think so and says that his department is currently one of only a handful of universities in the UK teaching the economics demanded in the post-crash era – although others are starting to catch up.

“Even hugely influential figures like Alan Greenspan, former chairman of the Federal Reserve, have acknowledged that the model they were working to was wrong,” he says. “New and very disruptive factors have come into play, which the old theories simply don’t take account of.

“Apart from that, mainstream economics is taught using mathematical methods that are frequently based on questionable assumptions and also fail to fully consider the big, shifting dynamics that shape the world – demographic, evolutionary, institutional, environmental, social, cultural... the factors that we must understand and calibrate if we are to get a more holistic appreciation of why things happen.

“The Bank of England's chief economist Andrew Haldane himself has said, ‘It is time to rethink some of the basic building blocks of economics’. And that’s exactly what we are doing here at UWE Bristol.”

Dr Hinks describes his department’s approach as “pluralistic economics”; and as part of their studies, he brings his students into contact with behavioural and political scientists, sociologists, psychologists and other specialists for them to gain an appreciation of why people, groups and even countries respond the way they do to different situations.

“We haven't torn up the old way of doing things,” he says. We still teach the history of economic theories as they were developed by people like Adam Smith, Malthus, Marx, Keynes, Friedman and Hayek. We can always learn from economic history too.

“But we are also embracing new perspectives, such as the economics of happiness – which propounds the idea that not everyone is motivated by the accumulation of wealth.

The acid test of pluralistic economics, of course, is how the graduates of UWE Bristol’s new way of teaching its students – or way of encouraging them to think – has a real value in the post crash era.

“The economics graduates coming out of UWE Bristol are rounded, grounded individuals with a real grasp of the current situation – and innovative ideas on how to deal with it,” maintains Dr Hinks. “They are starting to make their mark in some very influential places – such as the Treasury, leading banks, NGOs, charities and think tanks. About a third of our students also take up placement opportunities with many securing blue-chip placements with the Government Economic Service.

“They know they’re different… and can make a positive difference. And so do employers.”

He concludes: “It’s an academic’s role to question – and keep questioning – what has been taught before. I think we’re doing just that.”

This content was written and controlled by the University of the West of England

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