Students call for shakeup of economics teaching

Mainstream economics teaching fails to address 21st century issues, say students from 41 protest groups around the world

Economics students from 19 countries have come together to protest the way their subject is taught, claiming that the dominance of free-market theories at top universities impairs the world’s ability to deal with challenges such as climate change and financial instability.

In a letter to the Guardian newspaper, the International Student Initiative for Pluralist Economics (ISIPE) said that economics courses are failing wider society by ignoring evidence from other disciplines.

ISIPE, which has formed 41 protest groups in universities around the world including Britain, the US, Brazil and Russia, believes economics curriculums should be widened.

“The lack of intellectual diversity does not only restrain education and research, it limits our ability to contend with the multidimensional challenges of the 21st century,” the group’s manifesto says.

“The real world should be brought back into the classroom, as well as debate and a pluralism of theories and methods. This will help renew the discipline and ultimately create a space in which solutions to society’s problems can be generated.”

The campaign follows a series of protests in the UK by students who feel that economics academics are focusing too heavily on market-based financial models that have contributed to crisis within the global financial system.

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The Post-Crash Economics Society (PCES), formed by undergraduates at the University of Manchester, have issued their own manifesto calling for reform, with the endorsement of the Bank of England’s incoming chief economist Andy Haldane. Haldane claims economists have lost sight of the links between their subject and other social sciences, which can help give a fuller picture of the way an economy works.

“The crisis has laid bare the latent inadequacies of economic models. These models have failed to make sense of the sorts of extreme macro-economic events, such as crises, recessions and depressions, which matter most to society,” he said.

The PCES manifesto calls for university departments to use a wider range of texts and to employ lecturers prepared to endorse collaborations between academic departments.

“Change will be difficult, it always is,” reads their manifesto. “But it is already happening. Students across the world have already started creating change step by step. Change must come from many places. So now we invite you – students, economists, and non-economists – to join us and create the critical mass needed for change.”