Revise the University of Manchester's Economic Syllabus

To the Economics Department of the University of Manchester:

Wewould like to propose a number of measures that we believe will improve the way economics is taught at the University of Manchester. We base our case on the following observations:

1) The current content and teaching methods fail to meet the targets laid out by the University itself in the Manchester Matrix and Student Charter. E.g. according to clause 1 in the Manchester Matrix courses should teach students to think independently and critically but the vast majority of economics modules assign no marks for these skills. As a result students are not educated to the standard that they deserve and their employability is harmed.

2) In most courses “economics” is shorthand for “neoclassical economics”. There is no recognition of the fact that economics is a discipline that consists of a variety of schools of thought. Academic integrity requires that alternative economic theories be introduced to students. Economic questions cannot necessarily be answered adequately from a single theoretical standpoint.

3) The way economics is taught has hugely important consequences because our societies are shaped by economic events and policies. Economics graduates should be prepared to deal with the economic problems that the world faces.

4) The mismatch between syllabuses and real-world needs is a challenge faced by economicsdepartmentsacross the world. We want to stress that the department are not the cause of the problem. However, as a world class institution they should take a lead by reforming their syllabus.

We therefore believe that an education in economics should include more plurality and greater critical evaluation. We propose the following changes:

1) In each module, it should be highlighted what theory students are being taught, as this often is not mentioned. This leads to economics being viewed as a monolithic discipline without debate.

2) Because economic theories cannot be fully understood independently of the socio-political and technological context in which they were formulated, links to the history of economic thought should be made wherever possible.

3) There should be an availability of courses in alternative economic perspectives in first, second and third years. The point is not to stop teaching mainstream economics and only teach alternative perspectives. It is to realise that a plurality of perspectives is needed.

4) Wherever possible, lecturers should link their subject matter to the real world so that students can learn to apply theory, and understand where theory fails to explain reality.

5) Modules should encourage the development of critical skills. Tutorials should foster discussion and reflective thinking, instead of students copying answers written on a board.

6) Exams should include marks for independent, analytical thinking, to reflect this increasing focus on independent and applied thinking.

7) The department should hire academics that specialise in non-mainstream schools of thought. Currently the work of all new staff is almost exclusively within the mainstream.

Some of these changes could be implemented quickly, but others will take more time and new resources. The signatories of this petition signal their agreement with us in thinking that the current syllabus should be revised along these guidelines, and that the department should implement these changes as quickly as possible.

Please do not sign anonymously, as we really need to present this to the department with evidence that their own students want change. We are working constructively with the department and have been assured that they will not get angry at students who do decide to sign.

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Discussion

  • Alan Wilson How can any theory that assumes everyone is fully informed on the facts required to make totally ratonal economic decisions, and then assumes that everyone therefore makes totally rational economic decisions, be uncritically accepted by rational people?

  • Norberto Hernandez When I studied my masters in the Economics Department, I had the same need: the courses taught were very theoretical, abstract, no touch with the real world, and, most importantly, it punished critical thinking. The latter went to a point that a professor did not give me half of the points on some question because "I did not asked you to argument". I never forgot that. From the school I was coming, I was always required to "justify why"...

  • Robin Leslie This is very welcome but hugely overdue. I learned my Economics as part of a first degree that encompassed Economics, Philosophy and Sociology. Little did I realise at the time how critical
    Economics was during the New Deal period. You need to dismantle the entire framework of curricular controls otherwise your efforts to recover a critical Economics will fall at the first hurdle. This is a very good start coming as it does from the students themselves.

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