Drop in economics students prompts calls for curriculum reboot


Updated

June 13, 2018 19:17:41

Are you young and looking to make money? Well, the Reserve Bank of Australia suggests studying economics.

Key points:

  • Over 25 years economics enrolments fell by around 70pc across Australia
  • Starting salaries of graduate in economics typically exceed those in business studies
  • Roughly twice as many male students study economics as female students

The central bank is worried about an entire generation of students abandoning the once popular subject for business studies, which is perceived as a less analytically demanding and more vocational subject.

But its research shows that students who leave university with an economics degree typically enter into higher-paying roles.

The RBA’s head of information department Jacqui Dwyer said the issue of low enrolments in Year 12 economics and at university level was bad news for the nation’s overall economic literacy.

“Ultimately, economics has an image problem,” she said.

“It’s losing the race to its rival subjects and that goes to too few people really knowing what it is, how it might be relevant to them and how employable economics skills are.

“When fewer people study economics, economic literacy in the community falls, and economic literacy is important because every day our lives are affected by economic decisions.”

Over the past 25 years, there has been a steep and dramatic slide in year 12 economics enrolments — falling by around 70 per cent across the nation, and as much as 75 per cent in NSW.

Economics is now taught in less than a third of government schools and the introduction of business studies in the early 90s is seen as a major cause.

Ms Dwyer also said a long stretch of economic stability has made economics seem less exciting.

“I think there’s just less awareness now of the importance of economics,” she said.

“If we go back to the 80s and early 90s people had lived through recession, they’d also seen major economic reforms, the major deregulations of markets — the floating of the dollar and so forth.

“Economics was dinner table conversation.

“Now with many of the really big reforms behind us and recession a distant experience, I think people are just less engaged.”

Current curriculum ‘needs a reboot’

But the RBA is trying to fight the trend by sending a small army of young economist ambassadors directly into the classroom to address some of the misconceptions about employability.

“The starting salaries of a graduate in economics typically exceed those in the business studies area,” Ms Dwyer said.

“That’s actually telling us that the market’s valuing the analytic and problem solving skills that you learn in economics,” Ms Dwyer said.

At Sydney’s Riverside Girls High School, student numbers taking economics at HSC level are hovering around 4 per cent over the past five years.

For a couple of those years, there was too little interest to even offer the course.

Teacher Lisa Edwards said many students were opting for business studies instead and there were not enough visible or high profile role models for young girls to follow.

“Business studies is really easy to sell,” she said.

“If ever you’re thinking of running a business it gives you all the key strategies, everything you need to know.

“Economics is harder to define. It’s really hard to say to girls that this is going to enable you to explain and debate the world that we live in.”

She said students should be introduced to economics in the junior years of high school and that the current curriculum — which hasn’t been updated since 2003 — needed a reboot.

“We could be looking at what Trump’s doing and how he’s made a change within his economy,” she said.

“The global financial crisis was 10 years ago now — these girls are too young to even remember that.

“They’ve never had a recession, they’ve never had anything major to hang our hook on and that’s what economics needs — it needs something to draw them in.”

Year 11 student Emma Von Thomann said her general interest in the economy stems from her father.

“My dad had a big influence on it because he’s really interested in that stuff, so I just wanted to understand it when we watch the TV,” she said.

And she said she was not deterred by the somewhat heavy content.

“There is definitely a lot of content which is challenging but a lot of the skills we’re learning, the analytical skills, these are tools I’m going to use in whatever career I choose in the future so that was a big draw for me,” she said.

Gender imbalance

Along with the overall drop in interest, diversity in the study of economics is also of concern to the RBA.

The gender imbalance is more pronounced than in STEM subjects with roughly twice as many male students as female students.

That disparity continues at university where students completing an economics degree are more likely to be men from higher socio-economic backgrounds.

“They’ll typically come from a nice postcode,” Ms Dwyer said.

“We’re seeing a significant fall in both the size and diversity of the student population.

“Economists make decisions that affect us all so there are wider social benefits if that population of economists is broadly representative of society.”

Topics:

business-economics-and-finance,

education,

australia

First posted

June 13, 2018 19:16:32



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