The Economics Curriculum: Increasing Relevance to the Real World

July 13, 2011

The author is one of several CIGI-sponsored Canadian university students who attended the INET conference, Crisis and Renewal: International Political Economy at the Crossroads, at Bretton Woods, NH, April 8–11, 2011. Each student was asked to write a short reflection on the conference themes.

Nestled in the picturesque village of Bretton Woods, New Hampshire stands the Mount Washington Hotel, home of the conference, Crisis and Renewal: International Political Economy at the Crossroads. The two organizations behind the event — The Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and the Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET) — put together a full schedule of sessions that touched on the important issues related to the current global financial crisis and where the economic world should go from here. The conference attracted some of the biggest names in global economics and provided a forum to discuss and debate a wide range of topics. Also attending were 26 fortunate students from Canada and the United States, eager to soak up all the information the speakers had to offer.

During his keynote address, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown discussed several important events from the recent financial crisis and drew some conclusions. He looked at the issue from a global perspective and stated that problems could not be solved by one country on its own, but must be solved through globally coordinated action, an idea that especially resonated with me, as much of my research takes a global look at economic issues. Gordon Brown mentioned the idea of countries retreating into themselves, which is an issue that particularly interests me. He warned that the world is in danger of having global cooperation decrease, with countries becoming minilateral instead of multilateral. This is an important issue, and I was pleased that it was brought out for discussion right away.

A wide variety of interesting topics for discussion and reflection emerged from the different sessions. Numerous aspects of China’s economy were discussed, including its policy, foreign exchange and future. What struck me was a statistic quoted by Victor Shih of Northwestern University: 1.54 percent of the depositors in banks in China hold 45 percent of the deposits and 67 percent of the managed assets in the country. China is a transition economy, and represents an important part of the research I hope to do for my undergraduate thesis. The discussions on the concentration of wealth, particularly those having to do with the wealthy elite’s capacity to move wealth in and out of the country, will certainly influence the topics I choose to explore in future research.

From a student point of view, one of the more important sessions was the report given by the Economics Curriculum Committee Task Force. The task force has been reviewing undergraduate curricula for economics programs in the United States and the United Kingdom. It was very refreshing to see that Perry Merhling and Robert Skidelsky, the moderators of the session, placed an emphasis on the introduction of more “real-world” aspects. A lack of relevance to the real world within many academic programs is a frequent complaint among students in my classes and in the tutorials I have led. Introducing real-world aspects into the course material earlier, and with greater frequency, would likely improve student retention and overall program satisfaction. It was very encouraging to see that students were being considered and academic curricula were being reworked in this way, as well as discussed at such an important conference.

As a student, another particularly significant session was the breakfast for the student delegates with INET’s Executive Director Robert Johnson, CIGI’s Executive Director Thomas Bernes, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Program Director Daniel Goroff and the Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, professor at Columbia University. It was an absolute honour to spend time with these men and hear them speak. They were all very interested in what the students had to say, welcoming all of our comments or questions. The education of both undergraduate and graduate economics students was obviously important to everyone in attendance. After a photo shoot with the group, Joseph Stiglitz stayed to talk to some of the students and asked what we thought of the conference so far. Before moving on to the next session in our packed schedule, I was able to get a photo of myself and Dr. Stiglitz…I just had to take advantage of the opportunity!

As a student delegate, attending this conference was an invaluable experience that I will never forget. It clearly emphasized the enormity and complexity of the issues economists must tackle. The exposure to the wide range of topics provided some interesting issues that I would love to explore in future research projects. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to all the panellists, discussants and keynote speakers who spoke at the conference. My goal is to one day stand on the other side of the speaker’s podium and share my knowledge with the economic community at a similar conference in the future.

For more information and videos from the INET conference, visit

Part of Series

Canadian student perspectives on new economic thinking: reflections from the INET conference at Bretton Woods

The short essays in this series are by CIGI-sponsored Canadian university students who attended the INET conference, Crisis and Renewal: International Political Economy at the Crossroads, at Bretton Woods, NH, April 8–11, 2011. Each student was asked to write a short reflection on the conference themes.

About the Author

Sara Rose is a fourth year undergraduate student in economics at Carleton University.