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UK economics graduates lack required skills, study finds

A recent survey conducted by Rethinking Economics – a pressure group seeking to liberalise and simplify economics – found Britain’s universities are failing to equip economics graduates with the skills that businesses and government require.

Following interviews with major employers of economists – including the Government Economics Service, the Financial Conduct Authority, the Bank of England and large consultancy firms – economics graduates were perceived in a bad light.

Complaints entailed the inability to: think critically, apply their knowledge to real world problems and communicate their ideas coherently to non-economists.

To Allana Yurko, working as an economist involves “writing things for non-economists and presenting ideas to them”. Thus, a minimum standard of communication is imperative for the employers she interviewed.

This would mean teaching economics in a less mathematical way, and rather focus on approaching the subject through theoretical models…

The study’s results discovered by Rethinking Economics, founded by Manchester economics students post financial crisis, entrenched the necessity to spread the understanding of economics in society. As an effect, this would mean teaching economics in a less mathematical way, and rather focus on approaching the subject through theoretical models.

One consultancy interviewed said: “Sometimes when we’re interviewing candidates it’s clear that they know a lot of economic theory and they can talk about theoretical concepts and they can use all the right jargon but they’re not able to apply what they’ve learnt to a real-world problem we present to them.”

A UK government employer was concerned that economics graduates often lack the skills to think critically: “There’s a lot of assumptions or knowledge that aren’t necessarily challenged quite early on in the economics degree.”

When political decisions are backed by economic reasoning, as they so often are, economists are unable to communicate ideas to the public…

Rethinking Economics even questioned a weakened democratic process as a consequence of weak critical thinking, caused by economists “shying away” from debate, “preferring” to speak in jargon.

The report said: “When political decisions are backed by economic reasoning, as they so often are, economists are unable to communicate ideas to the public resulting in a large democratic deficit.”

“This may well play a large role in the current public distrust of economic experts, business leaders and policymakers who are simply not equipped to deal with the problems society faces.”

Alongside Rethinking Economics, the International Student Initiative for Pluralist Economists (ISIPE) has argued in a letter to The Guardian that their courses are “failing wider society” when they ignore evidence from other disciplines.

The formation of 41 protest groups across 19 countries – from Britain and the US to Brazil and Russia – argued research in their respected economics departments are too narrowly focussed; an effort must be made to broaden the curriculum.

The real world should be brought back into the classroom, as well as debate and a pluralism of theories and methods…

In ISIPE’s manifesto, they argue: “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 – from financial stability to food security and climate change.”

“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.”

Protests have been triggered by students in Manchester, Cambridge and London against academics championing market-financial models which induced the financial crisis. Students have demanded they are taught the analysis behind how and why the market crash happened and what can be done to avoid such a disaster in the future.

Change will be difficult – it always is. But it is already happening. Students across the world have already started creating change step by step…

Andy Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England, who is backing the Post-Crash Economics Society at the University of Manchester said: “”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.”

As an effect the student manifesto says: “Change will be difficult – it always is. But it is already happening. Students across the world have already started creating change step by step. We have founded university groups and built networks both nationally and internationally. 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.”

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