A group of undergrads at the University of Manchester have petitioned, or pressured, their department to change the curriculum. There is, I think, a preference for heterodoxy amongst them, but for the most part it seems like they want to get away from a focus on formalism,
Multiple-choice and maths questions dominate the first two years of economics degrees, which Earle said meant most students stayed away from modules that required reading and essay-writing, such as history of economic thought. “They think they just don’t have the skills required for those sorts of modules and they don’t want to jeopardise their degree,” he said. “As a consequence, economics students never develop the faculties necessary to critically question, evaluate and compare economic theories, and enter the working world with a false belief about what economics is and a knowledge base limited to neoclassical theory.”
My undergraduate experience was very different. Maybe it was an advantage to not going to a very well known, or highly ranked school. I don’t know how undergraduate programs work in the United Kingdom, but at San Diego State University (and I’m assuming all other U.S. schools) our education is split into two levels: lower division and upper division. The latter is where the true undergrad economic program starts, because the first two years are allotted towards general education and earning the prerequisites necessary to enter the major (math — at my school the requirement was very light: “Business Calculus” for the straightforward econ. major and Calculus I if you had an emphasis in quantitative analysis —, an introductory statistics class, and two introductory economics courses).
I enjoyed my upper division experience very much. I consider myself lucky to have been able to take the classes I did. I read a lot outside of class and I think that much of what I know is “self-taught,” but my undergraduate experience was indispensable (of course, I suppose the graduate level is even more rewarding, although I wouldn’t know). I gained an appreciation for theories and tools that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have. But, my professors seemed to put emphasis on teaching students how to think like an economist, which seems to be what the Manchester undergrads think is missing from their own program.
At SDSU, the upper division courses are divided into three levels: 300, 400, and 500. The levels more-or-less correspond to how challenging the classes are, although this isn’t always true. A “junior,” third-year, has core classes at the 300 level, some of which are difficult for students (more so than many 400 level electives). One of the aspects I liked about our department is that, apart from certain core classes (which vary by emphasis), the student has significant freedom in choosing amongst the other classes, although (again, varying by emphasis) you do have to take a certain number of classes at the 400 level, even if you are at liberty to choose between the options in that set. 500 level courses are like first year graduate courses, or something between that and fourth-year undergraduate courses, and are usually used as “capstone” classes (a fourth-year class required to graduate).
I’m interested in how others’ experience differ from mine. Below is a list of the classes I took, with the syllabus, if I can find it.
- ECON496 Law and Economics: One of the most challenging courses I took, because the professor wasn’t just interested in teaching us the tools, but also in forcing us to “think like an economist” and apply the tools;
- ECON301 Collection and Use of Data: A very basic course. It’s a prerequisite to econometrics, but I’m not sure why;
- ECON320 Intermediate Macroeconomic Theory: My experience with this class is mixed. We learned a lot of IS/LM, and I learned when I read the Bernanke and Abel book on my own, but most of class time was not spent on macro theory;
- ECON321 Intermediate Microeconomic Theory;
- ECON592 International Monetary Theory and Policy: I think the Manchester students would love this class. I was lucky to have been taught by a professor who doesn’t typically teach this course. Usually, the class focuses on the second half of the Krugman, Obstfeld, and Melitz textbook; we, instead, read Reinhart & Rogoff, Richard Koo, and Paul Krugman (The Return of Depression Economics), and various papers, including Irving Fisher’s work on debt deflation;
- ECON449 Economic Literacy;
- ECON464 Economic Problems of Latin America;
- ECON507 Mathematical Economics: This is a capstone only those with a “quantitative emphasis” are required to take and covers a lot of math they should have instead had us take as lower division prerequisites (Calculus II and III, with a tiny bit of linear algebra?) — this was the most difficult class I ever took, and I’m not sure how I passed;
- ECON561 International Trade: My favorite class. We used the first half of the above-linked Krugman, Obstfeld, and Melitz book (my favorite textbook).;
- ECON380 Labor Economics;
- ECON441 Introduction to Econometrics;
- ECON487 Economics of Strategy.
I do think that it would be awesome if the department introduced a class on heterodox economics. But, that’s a very different thing to redoing the curriculum as a whole — had the classes I took not been available, it would have been a net loss for me.