University students sign petition over impossible economics exam

A HT to Jane Hickey for this story about University economics exams. Final year economics students from the University of Sheffield are protesting vigorously about about their final exam as there were compulsory questions on topics which they had never been taught. According to the BBC one student said:

“We had been told it was not a maths-based paper.

“We feel misled and angry.

“Every part of the question was, ‘Calculate this, partially differentiate that.'”

Below is an image of the question.

sheffield eco paper

It seems that most major degrees in economics still focus on the neoclassical ideology and associates humans as perfectly rational walking calculators working out their utility for each purchase. The main model of consumer behaviour assumes that we never buy anything until we’ve calculated the impact on, for example, our retirement fund, and we’re so good at maths we use interest rates to compute our pleasure, over time, after buying something. However I know there is a movement for change in the composition of Economics Degrees which is discussed in the Diane Coyle edited book “What’s the use of Economics”, which examines what economists need to bring to their jobs, and the way in which education in universities could be improved to fit graduates better for the real world.

“US economist Philip Mirowski recounts how a colleague at his university was asked by students in spring 2009 to talk about the crisis. The world was apparently collapsing around them, and what better forum to discuss this in than a macroeconomics class. The response? “The students were curtly informed that it wasn’t on the syllabus, and there was nothing about it in the assigned textbook, and the instructor therefore did not wish to diverge from the set lesson plan. And he didn’t. In the 1970s at Cambridge “There were big debates, and students would study politics, the history of economic thought.” And now? “Nothing. No debates, no politics or history of economic thought and the courses are nearly all maths.”

Also have a look at this video from the New Economics Foundation – again it debates the value of mathematical models and neoclassical theory. Does the market actually reach equilibrium? I like Steve Keen’s comment – “the pirate obsession of Economics – they love X marks the spot”. It also includes Joseph Stiglitz, Gillian Tett, David Tuckett, Stephen Kinsella, John Kay, David Weinstein, and Dirk Bezemer.

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