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‘If we’d read those stuffy economists, the crisis could have been prevented’

‘If we’d read those stuffy economists, the crisis could have been prevented’

“Every year, some 7,000 people enrol in an economics programme. At the end of the line, almost every graduate enters the job market with a limited perspective on how our economy works,” says Joris Tieleman. Tieleman is pursuing his doctorate at EUR with research into urbanisation in Ghana. In addition, he is the co-founder of Rethinking Economics NL, an organisation that works to promote diversity in economic theory and economics education. He and three likeminded colleagues recently vetted the curricula of all economics bachelor programmes in the Netherlands. The results paint a rather uniform picture.

Put simply: most of the subjects centre on neoclassical economics – which takes supply and demand and homo economicus as its points of departure (86 percent of all theory subjects) – and quantitative research methods (97 percent of the methodology lectures). Moreover, they offer next to no real-life examples or case studies from economic history. If Tieleman had anything to say about it, Economics programmes would offer a wider range of different theories, qualitative research methods and real world economics. “Because that’s what the students actually hope to acquire in these programmes: a fundamental understanding of the mechanisms of our economy.”

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Is economics education too one-sided?

‘Economics has actually become increasingly diverse.'

Why did you perform this study?

“In debates about economics education, people often use anecdotes to present their case. The student who says that the curriculum only deals with a few theories; the lecturer who believes that he pays attention to a whole range of options. But whatever the case may be, these stories don’t say much about the structural make-up of these programmes. That’s why we made a close study of the curriculum of each Economics bachelor programme found in the Netherlands. This enables a discussion based on concrete facts.”

Rethinking Economics thinks Dutch economics education is too limited in scope. Why is the strong focus on neoclassical theory in these bachelor programmes such a problem actually?

“There’s nothing wrong with neoclassical economics. The main problem is what’s lacking in the economics curricula. A wider range of theories can yield a far larger number of insights. Institutional economics, for example, gives you a good idea of the social and political structures that keep the market going. And heterodox economics, for example, sheds light on the power factor.

“In addition, we see that the bachelor programmes have a very strong focus on quantitative research methods and mathematics. And that they pay very little attention to real world economics: examples from practice. While I understand that these are academic programmes, we should keep in mind that only 3 percent of Economics graduates actually go on to work as a scholar.”

You’re not the first to make this complaint. An often-heard response from economists is: over the past few years, we’ve seen far more attention being paid to subjects like ethics and behavioural economics.

“That’s absolutely true, and I’m all in favour of this trend. But when you take a closer look, these subjects are often presented as complementary to neoclassical economics. For example, a lot of behavioural economics subjects still work from the concept of homo economicus and merely question or adjust certain aspects. Most of the expansions to the curricula are found along the fringes. In many cases, they can’t be considered fundamental challenges to the dominant theory.”

Will you be sharing your findings with the deans of the different Economics faculties?

“Yes. For example, we’ve been invited to explain the report in further detail during the deans’ semi-annual consultation meeting. Some economists view anything beyond the scope of mainstream economics as quackery. While others say: we wouldn’t mind a more diverse curriculum, but this would be at the expense of subjects that we also find important. But you should keep in mind that deans and programme directors only have a limited influence on the curriculum. Indeed, in most cases, the current generation of academics have themselves been trained within this frame of thinking. Which means they can’t suddenly decide to teach a completely different set of theories – in many cases, they have no idea where to start.”

Would you like to know more about the study published by Rethinking Economics? Or are you interested in learning about the state of economics education in Rotterdam? You can find all kinds of results, discussion topics and learning materials at

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