Our collective work the ISIPE open global letter, published on May 5th 2014
An international student call for pluralism in economics
It is not only the world economy that is in crisis. The teaching of economics is in crisis too, and this crisis has consequences far beyond the university walls. What is taught shapes the minds of the next generation of policymakers, and therefore shapes the societies we live in. We, over 65 associations of economics students from over 30 different countries, believe it is time to reconsider the way economics is taught. We are dissatisfied with the dramatic narrowing of the curriculum that has taken place over the last couple of decades. This 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. Such change will help renew the discipline and ultimately create a space in which solutions to society’s problems can be generated.
United across borders, we call for a change of course. We do not claim to have the perfect answer, but we have no doubt that economics students will profit from exposure to different perspectives and ideas. Pluralism will notonly help to enrich teaching and research and reinvigorate the discipline. More than this, pluralism carries the promise of bringing economics back into the service of society. Three forms of pluralism must be at the core of curricula: theoretical, methodological and interdisciplinary.
Theoretical pluralism emphasizes the need to broaden the range of schools of thought represented in the curricula. It is not the particulars of any economic tradition we object to. Pluralism is not about choosing sides, but about encouraging intellectually rich debate and learning to critically contrast ideas. Where other disciplines embrace diversity and teach competing theories even when they are mutually incompatible, economics is often presented as a unified body of knowledge. Admittedly, the dominant tradition has internal variations. Yet, it is only one way of doing economics and of looking at the real world. Such uniformity is unheard of in other fields; nobody would take seriously a degree program in psychology that focuses only on Freudianism, or a politics program that focuses only on state socialism. An inclusive and comprehensive economics education should promote balanced exposure to a variety of theoretical perspectives, from the commonly taught neoclassically-based approaches to the largely excluded classical, post-Keynesian, institutional, ecological, feminist, Marxist and Austrian traditions – among others. Most economics students graduate without ever encountering such diverse perspectives in the classroom.
Furthermore, it is essential that core curricula include courses that provide context and foster reflexive thinking about economics and its methods per se, including philosophy of economics and the theory of knowledge. Also, because theories cannot be fully understood independently of the historical context in which they were formulated, students should be systematically exposed to the history of economic thought and to the classical literature on economics as well as to economic history. Currently, such courses are either non-existent or marginalized to the fringes of economics curricula.
Methodological pluralism stresses the need to broaden the range of tools economists employ to grapple with economic questions. It is clear that maths and statistics are crucial to our discipline. But all too often students learn to master quantitative methods without ever discussing if and why they should be used, the choice of assumptions and the applicability of results. Also, there are important aspects of economics which cannot be understood using exclusively quantitative methods: sound economic inquiry requires that quantitative methods are complemented by methods used by other social sciences. For instance, the understanding of institutions and culture could be greatly enhanced if qualitative analysis was given more attention in economics curricula. Nevertheless, most economics students never take a single class in qualitative methods.
Finally, economics education should include interdisciplinary approaches and allow students to engage with other social sciences and the humanities. Economics is a social science; complex economic phenomena can seldom be understood if presented in a vacuum, removed from their sociological, political, and historical contexts. To properly discuss economic policy, students should understand the broader social impacts and moral implications of economic decisions.
While approaches to implementing such forms of pluralism will vary from place to place, general ideas for implementation might include:
- Hiring instructors and researchers who can bring theoretical and methodological diversity to economics programs;
- Creating texts and other pedagogical tools needed to support pluralist course offerings;
- Formalizing collaborations between social sciences and humanities departments or establishing special departments that could oversee interdisciplinary programs blending economics and other fields.
Change will be difficult – it always is. But it is already happening. Indeed, students across the world have already started creating change step by step. We have filled lecture theatres in weekly lectures by invited speakers on topics not included in the curriculum; we have organised reading groups, workshops, conferences; we have analysed current syllabuses and drafted alternative programs; we have started teaching ourselves and others the new courses we would like to be taught. 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. See Support us to show your support and connect with our growing networks. Ultimately, pluralism in economics education is essential for healthy public debate. It is a matter of democracy.
Already back in 2012 ….
A Call For A Pluralistic Teaching In Economics !
We, students in economics from various horizons, would like to express once again our discontent with the way Economics is taught in universities and other academic institutions. For more than ten years now similar initiatives have been continuously publicized in several countries all around the world with no movement on the issue, thus underlining the pervasive nature of the problem and the on-going dismay with the lack of necessary change.
By choosing economics as our major we hoped to gain a better understanding of real economic mechanisms. We are saddened to recognize that this has not been the case at all: the most striking example of it being our incapacity to apprehend the current economic crisis with the analytic tools that we are taught. Far from making up for these flagrant loopholes, courses across the world have stubbornly remained almost the same. The crisis is not only one of the economy, it is also a crisis of economics and a crisis of our classrooms!
We thoroughly believe that our understanding of real socio-economic processes as well as our critical mind would greatly benefit from a more pluralistic teaching. For that purpose, we suggest to integrate more pluralism in our courses, on three different levels.
- Different paradigms, aside from the so called Neoclassical theory and its different ramifications, should be introduced thoroughly to the students as early as possible in order to allow cross-paradigmatic analyses and foster critical thinking.
- Reflexive disciplines such as epistemology, history of economic thought and social and economic history should acquire special importance in standard programs and not be considered as side and marginal.
- Discussions with other social and human sciences (sociology, anthropology, history, geography, philosophy…) should be more systematic and a possible way to do so would be to introduce thematic courses. The very objects of economics, such as unemployment, inequalities, consumption choices and others are inherently manifold and require a corresponding plural approach allowing for transversal investigations.
We do not reject the use of mathematics, formal models or statistical methods in Economics. We simply first and foremost wish to be granted the chance to fully grasp the bases and stakes underlying our economic system.
We hereby call upon all our fellow students from all horizons and all academic levels sharing the same concerns and frustrations. We invite them to join us and to help us mobilize the broadest level of support in order to rethinking our discipline and the way it is currently taught and having pluralistic economics teaching in all higher education systems as soon as possible.
Students of PEPS-Economie (Pour un Enseignement Pluraliste dans le Supérieur en Economie / For a Pluralistic Teaching in Economics in Higher Education)
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