Convention overturned: real-world economics gaining ground in business studies

Until recently, the first year business and economics program that Carlos Cortinhas was to teach could, by his own admission, “be a drag.” Undergraduates worked on textbooks and lectures detailing indifference curves and market equilibrium, memorizing basic theories and business models to reach the next stage of their degrees.

Today, the course taught by the Associate Professor of Economics at the University of Exeter in the UK is more about debate and discussion than rote learning, and students talk about climate change even before it begins. learn more about supply and demand.

This new approach uses Heart (Curriculum Open-access Resources in Economics) – a new approach to teaching that grounds economics in the real world.

Launched a decade ago and now in use at 310 universities in 68 countries, it is turning mainstream economics education upside down, starting with the thorny global issues that concern young people and exploring how a wide range of theories and models can help solve them.

© Tim Pestridge

“It has completely changed the way we teach,” Cortinhas says. “Students become more engaged, interactive. It is a real happiness.

Diversified, practical and accessible, Core embodies a new type of teaching, particularly at ease in sales departments.

As the teaching of business and management has developed, so has the teaching of economics in business schools. This created new opportunities for research, practical work and teaching collaboration for new audiences, which sowed the seeds for new thinking on a traditionally conservative and theoretical subject.

“There is a difference in the way you teach economics in a business school,” says Michael Kitson, senior lecturer in international macroeconomics at the Judge Business School at the University of Cambridge in the UK. “It’s much more open to pluralist ways of thinking; it is only one part of a wide range of disciplines. “

Kitson fondly remembers the years when Marxist, Keynesian and neoclassical economists worked side by side, but believes that traditional economics departments have lost some of their diversity.

Now he feels more comfortable in business school, where academics from a wide range of disciplines work on practical challenges. “This pluralism in the departments of economics has disappeared,” he says. “Where this pluralism exists now is in business schools.”

A British Academy Paper on Business Studies, published last month, found that business and management are inter-disciplinary almost above all else – encompassing topics ranging from finance and economics to sociology and geography, and a large student body and diversified.

In 2019-2020, one sixth of undergraduates and one fifth of postgraduates in the UK were enrolled in a business and management course, of which 39% were international students and around 20% of black origin , Asian or minority. .

Lisa Magnani

Lisa Magnani, professor of economics at Macquarie University in Australia, says the wide appeal of business studies has forced economics teachers to think more creatively.

“One dimension of the economy is the lack of diversity – the ability to scare women away or attract students from certain types of socio-economic backgrounds,” she says. “Both at the undergraduate level and at the MBA level, we have revolutionized the teaching of economics. . . the idea is applied and the economy engaged.

A larger audience and real-world issues mean economics education needs to recognize a wider range of models and approaches, according to course officials. Today, Gen Z undergraduates and MBA students are more likely to be progressive and socially conscious, if not always economically left.

“If we looked back 15 years ago, MBA students were mainly looking for the skills and education that would allow them to advance in their careers,” says Kitson. ” This has changed. Increasingly, they want to understand the big picture in terms of global challenges – inequality, climate change, racism. These are much more important than trying to maximize [their] Income.”

Progressive views are perhaps increasingly in demand in business services, but they are not always easy to drive.

In the United Kingdom, the University of Leicester faces an international boycott on the cuts that meant researchers specializing in critical and left-wing approaches to business and economics were targeted for redundancy.

The university says it is placing more emphasis on big data, analytics and artificial intelligence. It aims to “focus on research on contemporary issues where there is a clear demand from research users and funders”, to equip graduates with “relevant skills to make a positive impact in the world”.

However, David Harvie, a political economist and one of those threatened with dismissal, says the cuts in critical thinkers have destroyed the possibility of a truly diverse and challenging business studies program in Leicester.

“I think it’s going to go away,” he said. “I get the impression that some of it is based on the idea that someone who goes to Leicester is not able to study the humanities. But look at the people who are now rediscovering Keynes, Marx – people need history.

Other educators argue that new forms of economics education do not go far enough. AT Rethinking the economy, a student and academic movement to reshape the subject, says COO Tree Watson, while the real aspect of Core opens up new perspectives, truly pluralistic theory is lacking. “It’s still neoclassical economics after all,” she says.

Wendy Carlin © Milan David

But Wendy Carlin, professor of economics at University College London and project manager at Core, says new methods of teaching economics are being adopted not only in business schools, but everywhere the subject is taught. . With impressive results too. A 2020 study found that the grades of students who took the Core program were on average 17% higher than those who did not, and not only economics students felt a boost, but also those who study finance and management.

Carlin describes the Core approach as starting not from assumptions about perfect information and models, as in traditional economics education, but from how the real world works, with all its imperfections.

This, she hopes, will not only make the economy more accessible to students, but will also help create new theories and frameworks for the challenges of tomorrow.

“These different conceptions of capital and all the measures of [gross domestic product] came out of the Great Depression – we are facing different issues now, ”she said. “There is a desire to really rethink our view of the economy. . . We have shown that it is possible, but there is much more to be done – and it needs to be for universities to maintain their relevance.

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