If Canadian grad student unions ever embrace their role to lobby for better grad ed, they can take inspiration from the student movement which changed economics education, the discipline of economics and maybe even world politics.
Canadian graduate student unions (and undergrad student unions) can lobby for pluralism in economics education. Three economics students from Manchester, UK set a model for the kind of analysis sorely missing in academic advocacy for graduate programs.
In their book, The Econocracy, the students review economics education in the Russel group of British universities to point out critical failures in undergraduate economics education. Instead of learning to critique models of ‘the economy’ students learn economics orthodoxies, in a kind of indoctrination toward a ‘priesthood’. The priest-like function of university trained economists using airless models of mathematical purity lacks both a heart and a connection to the real world. Economics orthodoxies failed to predict, explain or care about the ravages of the global economic collapse in 2008. The writers understand better than their Manchester professors:
“The purpose of studying economics is not to acquire a set of ready-made answers to economic questions, but to learn how to avoid being deceived by economists” attributed to Joan Robinson who taught economics to future Nobel laureates [page 157].
The movement to change economics education arose from a narrowing of the discipline in the 1970s. Pluralism in economics calls for more critique of economics models, more connection to lay persons left out of the jargon and decisions of economists and more context in economics education in terms of history, ethics and psychology.
Although the UK suffered economic devastation from the global 2008 financial crisis, the writers of The Econocracy noticed their economics courses failed to explain or care about suffering the 2008 crisis brought on. As students driven to understand via critique & connection & context, they went about learning the stuff not taught in their official economics courses, reviewing economics education and its failure to bridge a gap to the real world.
The fusion of the word economics with bureaucracy into the word econocracy sums up the power given to university trained economists in political decisions and governments. Some economics students in the Manchester group studied economics to get an inside track on power at the highest level of decision-making. The Manchester students noticed their ‘outsider’ status and rejected the closed off, elite, shut out nature of economics training offered to them.
Discontent with the quality of economics courses led to a lobby for better content and spun out to touch many influential economists, economics educators and other student groups. Economics students internationally soon coalesced into the International Student Initiative for Pluralist Economics. The many German chapters of The International Student Initiative for Pluralist Economics are an influential force in economics within the country. The Rethinking Economics organization also knits together many cells of student activism globally.
Students of economics helped to redefine the discipline so it better fits to reality and got luminaries like the chief economist of the Bank of England, a Nobel laureate in economics and Noam Chomsky onside. Ignorance of an economics connected to real world threatens us all in decisions taken by politicians on the advice of a priestly caste of economists. Pluralistic economics education makes for sounder, more inclusive political decisions.
The student movement stirred up economics education. To broaden economics training and thinking, many university economics departments now offer a broader range of courses to provide a pluralistic perspective. Accompanying the pluralism in economics movement, of course, is pushback against pluralism. Graduate students in economics can pivot the discipline toward greater pluralism.
One problem with getting economics professors to offer greater pluralism is they can’t. Training in the mono-culture of the existing discipline prevents pluralism from coming forth in teaching and breeds more mono-culture. Embracing pluralism begins in graduate school, with new practitioners of economics who will broaden the scope of economics education. Graduate students in economics can embrace pluralism with new pluralistic research and in teaching undergrads to critique, through context and connection.
Academic officers of Canadian graduate student unions please take inspiration in the activism of students of economics to question, influence and change academic programs. Note one graduate student website, The Minskys from which new thinking about economics and economics education may take hold. Canada has yet to catch fire with groups networked to reform of economics education. Graduate Student Unions can network, introduce and aid students of economic to get in touch with international groups, projects, and new curricula. This would be a good start on grad ed advocacy.
Graduate student unions in Canada have yet to respond to economics students critiquing economics education and get behind pluralism as a solution. Advocacy from a graduate student union to embrace pluralism offers a proactive, positive solution to members who trust the union to look out for their economics education. Academic officers in graduate student unions can take inspiration from the power of disparate groups of international students to come together and make change in their discipline.
Canadian graduate student unions must finally take on advocacy for better graduate education. For example, the throw ’em in the deep end approach to graduate education which fails so many students somehow never makes it on the radar of Canadian graduate student unions. With inspiration from the pluralism in economics education movement, academic actors for grad unions can expect success with their graduate education lobby too.
The Manchester students took an activist stance toward their economics education. Instead of dropping out, they moved to the place of a curious, competent and critical student. They had enough confidence and solidarity in each other to challenge orthodoxy in their education. Canadian grad student leaders can certainly do the same and take heart in their success.