In February 2012 a conference was held at the Bank of England, jointly sponsored by the Government Economic Service, the purpose of which was to question whether there were manifest shortcomings in the knowledge and skills of young people taught Economics in UK universities.
The conclusion of this Conference was that such shortcomings did exist. As a consequence, a steering group, including both academics and employers of graduate economists, was established to discuss recommendations for reforms to the teaching of Economics.
The Society of Business Economists has been represented on this steering group and has played a full part in its deliberations. The steering group decided that it would be very useful to know what the views of the membership of the Society of Business Economists, who are typically also employers of Economics graduates, are on the wide-ranging issues which had been so extensively discussed. As a consequence, a survey was prepared and sent to members in January 2013. Happily, this elicited an enthusiastic response.
Members were asked to rate an extensive range of knowledge and skills as “absolutely essential”, “desirable” or “not necessary”.
Standard macro and microeconomics topped the essential knowledge list together with basic data-handling skills and knowledge of data sources (e.g. ONS; World Bank).
Lower down the essentials list came Money & Banking and Financial Economics, followed by Economic History and International Trade.
Further down came Cost/ Benefit Analysis; Competition Economics; Behavioural Economics; History of Economic Thought; Financial History; Industrial Development and Economic Development.
Econometrics came into this latter category but less than 10 per cent of the poll regarded ‘Advanced Mathematics’ as essential -on a par with Regional Policy, knowledge of Accounting, Corporate Finance or Foreign Languages.
‘Analytical Skills’ scored very high as an essential skill, closely followed by Writing Skills. Also ranked high were ‘ability to apply economic theory to real world policy or corporate issues’ and ‘ability to explain economic concepts to non-economists’. Ranked considerably lower on the “essentials” scale was “experience of undertaking a research project” and “collaborative working project experience/ teamwork”.
Revealingly, comments about new Economics graduates from survey respondents consistently mentioned poor communication skills and lack of ‘real world’ or ‘historical awareness’.