Teaching Economics in New Ways – Core Project

Gas, painting by Edward Hopper

In recent years, some have been calling for an overhaul to the curriculum regarding how economics is taught in higher education. The goal is to better prepare students for the real world. Blogging for the World Bank in 2014, Miles McKenna reflected on this, explaining that in the autumn of 2014 it was planned that at University College London and the University of Massachusetts in Boston the new programme would be piloted. Following this pilot, other universities such as the University of Sydney, Sciences Po in Paris and the University of Chile were planned to commence with a similar programme in early 2015. But what is this brave new approach to the teaching of economics?

The new way of teaching is grounded in studies carried out for the CORE Project by the Institute of New Economic Thinking (INET) at the Oxford Martin School. The CORE project has been working on a new curriculum, one that is interactive and offered through an online virtual learning approach. The programme is available to the public as well. As McKenna writes:

“Led by UCL Professor Wendy Carlin, the CORE project draws on the expertise of more than 25 academics from top universities around the world, and has been put together with the help of web designers and developers in Bangalore.”

The project has also had considerable input from students, teachers, experts and employers, among others. You may be wondering why such a change was instigated. The answer to that is that students were finding the situation post-university to be fairly tough as the economics they were being taught at university was not found by them to be the case in the real world. This was especially problematic following the economic crisis brought about in 2008. Students complained, arguing that there was a lack of intellectual diversity in the programme that did not allow them to deal with the “multidimensional challenges of the 21st century,” such as food security, financial stability and climate change. The following little video gives the reader an overview of the program:

The CORE project itself explains that:

“We hope that students completing CORE courses will have the facts, concepts and confidence to address five sets of questions.”

The first set of these questions asks, “What is economics about?” The questions that fall under this grouping include the links between capitalism and technological innovation and how these have changed the world, the wealth and poverty of nations and people, the environmental constraints on economic development (if any) and how increased income can enhance the quality of life. A second set of questions reviews who the main economic actors are. This reviews human behaviour, warts and all to look at how generosity, selfishness and ethics influence economic outcomes. It also explores how authority and competition play a role in how companies are organised and the shaping of their behaviour. The third set of questions considers “What can markets do? (and what can they not do?)” This explores how societies coordinate economic activities, how markets work, why they sometimes fail, the role of restriction of competition, and the benefits and costs of international movement of commodities, finance and people, among others. Question four covers: “How can public policies improve economic performance?” This area assesses the problems of unemployment, inflation, booms, recessions and financial crises. It looks at the role of fiscal and monetary policy in stabilising the economy, as well as government failures. The fifth question assesses how economists produce knowledge, asking whether economics can be a science, why there are differences between economists and how economic knowledge has evolved over time in response to new data, methods and problems.

CORE believes it is different and offers a more helpful approach for students because it is question motivated rather than tool oriented, and students can learn how to analyse economics. It is empirically motivated and students learn the details of their own economy and gain the ability to be able to compare it to others. Economics is not studied in a vacuum with the CORE project, rather behaviour is considered, and dynamism, looking at history, innovation and instability. In traditional economics the CORE project argues that “history doesn’t matter”, which is not the approach that it takes. Importantly CORE does not avoid the central role of institutions in economics. All of these seems very positive and we can only hope that the graduates of this programme feel better prepared for the economic practicalities of the current time and the future.

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