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Why we need a pluralistic economics education


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Written by Rohan D.

BSc Economics and Finance student Rohan believes an interdisciplinary approach is key to the study of Economics. He shares his experience so far.

A mortar board, pencil and coins on a desk with other coins in a jar white a blackboard in the background

When we consider economists whose names are synonymous with the profession, it is interesting to note that many of them were specialists in another discipline first. The father of modern economics, Adam Smith, himself penned ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiment’ before his trademark work on economics, ‘The Wealth of Nations’. Hayek and Schumpeter both acquired their training in law before producing some of the most insightful economic theories of all time. Keynes had a background in mathematics and studied economics for a year, before going on to revolutionise the profession and inspire a new way of economic thinking that continues to stand the test of time. 

All these economists knew that a comprehensive understanding of the subject requires a pluralistic approach, synthesising learnings from the other social sciences to gain an understanding of complex and uncertain human behaviour and its effects on the macroeconomy. 

In my experience, the University of London’s BSc Economics brilliantly weaves together this pluralistic approach to ensure that students are empowered with a diverse toolkit of skills that prepares them for the dynamic demands of current economic professions. 

In my first year of the BSc Economics course, we laid groundwork for later modules by gaining a strong foundation in mathematics and mathematical statistics. The modules helped us decipher complex economic models that dominate the profession nowadays and empowered us to conduct rigorous empirical studies that are critical for research work in not only economics, but also finance, psychology, sociology and a plethora of other social sciences. 

Further, the introductory economics course helped us understand a variety of economic theories that guide policy-making. This is supplemented by an optional module which allows students to tailor their degree according to their future interests.  One can even choose to pursue courses in management theory, law, international relations, and sociology, all of which will undoubtedly help instil the pluralistic approach that is central to becoming an economist who can respond to the challenges of the 21st century.

As I embark on the second year of the degree, I am looking forward to building on my foundational knowledge through modules in macroeconomics and microeconomics. While these modules are the hallmark of any economics degree, the University of London modules offer a more rigorous treatment of standard economic models and place a strong emphasis on real-world applications. Students are exposed to a vast array of modern econometric techniques that can be applied when conducting impactful research in the fields of labour, health, environmental and behavioural economics (apart from quantitative finance) and a wide array of other social sciences.

However, the third year of the degree is the year that truly allows students to grow in their field of choice. University of London allows you to study higher-level economics but also choose from courses in other key subject areas. Students can choose to customise their course to specialise in a particular field of economics. This flexibility allows students to customise their education to align with their further studies, or the requirements of their prospective employers.

Nowadays, some economics courses are dedicated to the study of unrealistic economic models and mathematical formalisation - an approach that was strongly rejected by Adam Smith himself, whose work remains the guiding light to the discipline to this date. However, I would argue that University of London is effectively preparing economists for the unprecedented challenges of the 21st century by providing students with a pluralistic education not dissimilar to what the greatest economists in history benefitted from. 

Rohan is studying Economics and Finance in India.