Yesterday I attended a conference organised by the Economics Network and hosted by the Bank of England on the subject of revisiting curriculum reform in economics (the talks from that event were collected, with other contributions, in What’s The Use of Economics?) Revisiting because it is three years since the conference I organised in the same location that kicked off the process of reform.
The new conference focused on practicalities, the hows, whereas the first was more about the whether and why. While there was substantial agreement among the participants yesterday about the kinds of change needed – more real world engagement , some interdisciplinarity, openness to different ideas – it’s fair to say there isn’t a consensus about what to put in a new curriculum. The ideals among different participants in the debate range from incremental reform to a substantial and serious revamp to a whole new, heterodox curriculum explicitly not centred on any ‘mainstream’ approach. It would be a healthy outcome to have more variety between the offers of different economics departments than the conformity that exists at present, so this range seems fine to me – although I do think employers of economists will continue to require a set of basic skills and knowledge which are currently delivered by the existing ‘mainstream’.
There was – among others – a session on the first year of experience of teaching the CORE course whose creation was led by Wendy Carlin. The development of the basic material was supported first by INET and Friends Provident Foundation is now supporting the work that will enable its wide use by many teachers and students, including independent learners. INET is now instead funding Robert Skidelsky with Ha-Joon Chang and others to develop a fully heterodox alternative.
There was also an excellent session on what students ought to learn about data, with contributions from Richard Davies on online big data, Jonathan Haskel with a very interesting business school perspective including the use of case studies (modern and historical), and Steve Pischke on teaching econometrics to undergraduates who will probably not go on to masters degrees but will head out into jobs. Pischke made some important points about any teaching of undergraduates: given their high school experience, they are not used to independent critical thinking and are uncomfortable with ambiguity and judgements.
All this and much more. The event was recorded so I’ll post the link when it’s available. The Twitter hashtag was #revisitecon.
I came away feeling very optimistic about the way the debate has moved in three years from a question about whether any change was possible to much more detailed practicalities. There are plentiful barriers to changing the curriculum and the approach to teaching economics, but there is a broad alliance and plenty of momentum for reform in the UK now. It would be interesting to know what is happening in other countries?