Undergraduate degrees in Economics in the UK

Dr Inna Pomorina, Economics Network
Published April 2013

The curriculum of undergraduate degrees in Economics has been the focus of several recent discussions, including the GES/Bank of England event earlier this year, the Employability report prepared by Economics Network (EN) and at the Festival of Economics in Bristol in November 2012. A census of Economics teaching had been previously prepared by the EN in 2008 by Paul Riethmuller, University of Queensland. This study focused on the core subjects studied in virtually all economics degrees, but its scope excluded elective modules and other questions. Among the main issues raised by this year’s employer’s survey was UK students’ understanding and application of knowledge gained from the various modules on offer. We decided to undertake a new census of Economics teaching, focusing on the way Economics L100 or Economics majors are taught here: what are the entry requirements for the course, what modules are offered, and how are the courses taught and assessed?

The data for this report were compiled from various open-access sources, including entry requirements listed by UCAS. For information on selective modules we consulted the web pages of UK universities offering this degree program. For information on how courses are taught and assessed we used UNISTATS, who publish Key Information Sets (KIS). (A similar census was recently done in the USA, although their data were collected by surveying of Heads of Departments on Economics courses required for BA and BSc degrees across all types of schools offering the undergraduate degrees in Economics.) We summarise the data from individual departments and look at differences and similarities between BA and BSc degrees and whether or not they are offered by a business school. It would be useful to weight the data by the size of cohorts taking the course, but unfortunately these data are not openly available at present. We believe this report will be of interest to Heads of Departments going through institutional review, to lecturers in Economics in the UK and other countries interested in departmental planning and curriculum development.

Course entry requirements

Currently there are 60 departments/groups in the UK who offer an Economics L100 degree, with 45% offering BA and 75% offering BSc and 20% offering both BA and BSc. BA Economics is designed to suit those interested in focusing on the application of theory and the factors which influence key decisions and policy making. BSc takes a more technical approach to the subject with a greater mathematical and statistical focus. But this doesn’t often explain why it is considered to be a science or an art degree in different universities. There are historical and traditional reasons for that. For example LSE offers BSc degrees in practically all subject areas; even those normally associated with arts degrees, while Oxbridge almost exclusively award BA and MA qualifications.

Economics departments/groups located in Business Schools offer 33% of BSc Economics degrees and 44% of BA Economics degrees, while the rest is offered by the departments/groups located not in Business Schools, but in Social Science faculties or even an Economics faculty.

Entry requirements for the degrees differ: 77% of those offering BSc degrees and 58% overall require A or AS levels in Maths (from A to C), while the rest both for BSc and BA degrees require only GSCE results in Maths (from A to C). Economics A level is not required for entry. As Maths is not mentioned as a prerequisite for taking 42% of Economics degrees, many students are not aware of the big role maths and stats play during the course, especially if they’ve taken Economics A levels, which are very descriptive. This leads to a lot of complaints by students, highlighted by NSS and EN surveys. For example when the Economics Network survey 2011/12 asked how their degree course differs from their expectations, many students mentioned higher levels of maths, e.g.:

I did not anticipate the level of mathematics that took place during an economics degree. If I had known that there would be extensive use I would have chosen to do a maths A level;” “Much more maths and statistics than previously told or was aware of;” “It has far more maths than I thought and even though I am doing a course where I needed a B at GCSE in maths, it is more difficult than I thought it would be;" “There was more maths less essay writing than I anticipated causing me to switch my major from BSc Econ to BA econ and politics;" “I didn't expect as much maths. The lecturers assume that you just automatically understand it too without actually clarifying. Somewhat annoying."

All of the departments/groups offer postgraduate qualifications in Economics and relevant subjects.

Course requirements

Each degree course consists of core modules, which all students have to take, and electives, where students are allowed to choose from 2 to 4 offered by the school per year. Overall more than 50 electives are open to undergraduate students in UK degrees. Some of those electives are quite unique like Economics of science, Happiness Economics or Alternative Perspectives in Economics. Some of the electives have the same syllabus but different titles in different institutions. Work Placement is offered on 26% of BA and 13% of BSc degrees. In Business Schools it is offered on 41% of BA degrees and 20% of BSc degrees, while in departments outside Business Schools it is offered on 13% of BA  and 11% of BSc degrees. At the end of the degree, students on 37% of BA degrees and 46% of BSc degrees write an Economics dissertation, while students on 40% of BA and 31% of BSc degrees prepare an Applied Economics or Econometrics Project. A dissertation is offered to students on 50% of both BA and BSc degrees in Business Schools and on 26% of BA and 45% of BSc degrees not in Business Schools. An Applied project is offered on 41% of BA and 30% of BSc degrees in Business Schools and on 40% of BA and 31% of BSc degrees outside Business Schools.

Core modules include: Introductory courses in Economics, either separate Micro and Macro or a combination; Intermediate Micro and Macro Courses; Maths and Stats courses. They were well documented in our 2008 report. Separate self-standing courses in Introduction to/Principles of Macroeconomics are offered on 74% of BA degrees and 64% of BSc degrees, with 83% for BA and 50% on BSc degrees in Business Schools and 66% and 68% degrees not in Business Schools. Self-standing courses in Introduction to/Principles of Microeconomics are offered on 92% of BA and 84% of BSc degrees, with similar numbers for Macroeconomics in Business Schools and 100% for BA and 94% for BSc degrees not in Business Schools. The rest of students are offered a hybrid module course on Principles.

Intermediate courses in Macroeconomics are offered to all Economic students, while intermediate courses in Microeconomics are offered to all students in Business Schools and to all BA students and 94% of BSc students not in Business Schools.

Advanced Macroeconomics is offered to students on 33% of BA and 44% of BSc degrees, and on 12% of BA and 30% of BSc degrees in Business Schools and 46% of BA and 48% of BSc degrees not in Business Schools.

Table 1 Course Modules for Bachelors Degrees in Economics in the UK
             (% of Economics Degrees with these Modules)

 
All departments
Business Schools
Not in Business Schools
Courses
All degrees
BA
BSc
BA
BSc
BA
BSc
Intro/Principles of Macroeconomics
68
74
64
83
50
66
68
Intro/Principles of Microeconomics
87
92
84
83
50
100
94
Intermediate Microeconomics
97
100
95
100
100
100
94
Intermediate Macroeconomics
100
100
100
100
100
100
100
Mathematical & Statistical Methods in Economics
68
74
64
58
60
86
65
Econometrics
67
59
71
58
70
60
72
Advanced Macroeconomics
40
33
44
12
30
46
48
Macroeconomic Policy
19
11
24
8
0
13
31
Advanced Microeconomics
40
33
44
25
40
40
45
History of Economic Thought
18
15
20
12
10
13
23
Economic History
29
30
29
8
20
46
31
Behavioural Economics
11
18
6
25
0
6
8
International Economics
44
44
44
58
50
33
43
Development Economics
49
41
53
12
50
80
54
Industrial Economics
46
33
53
33
50
33
54
Applied Econometrics and Forecasting
23
18
26
25
30
13
25
Money and Banking
67
59
71
58
60
60
74
Labour Market Economics
43
40
44
50
50
33
43
Core Skills for Economists  (math, stats, data analyses)
34
40
31
58
30
26
31
Economics Dissertation
43
37
46
50
50
26
45
Applied Economics/ Econometrics project
34
40
31
41
30
40
31
Economics of Natural Resources and Environment
50
48
51
50
70
46
45
Game Theory
38
33
41
50
50
20
25
Work Placement
18
26
13
41
20
13
11
Quantitative Methods: 1 and 2
43
22
56
25
30
20
43
(Observations)
72
27
45
12
10
15
35

Modules in Basic Core skills for economists (maths, stats and data analyses) are offered on 40% of BA degrees and 31% of BSc, with 58% of BA and 30% of BSc degrees in Business Schools and 26% of BA and 31% of BSc degrees not in Business Schools. Quantitative Methods (1 and 2) is offered to 22% of BA and 56% of BSc degrees overall, and on 25% of BA and 30% BSc degrees in Business Schools, and on 20% of BA and 43% of BSc degrees not in Business Schools.  Mathematical and Statistical Methods is offered on 74% of BA and 64% of BSc degrees overall, and on 58% of BA and 70% of BSc degrees in Business Schools and 86% of BA and 65% BSc degrees not in Business Schools. Econometrics is offered on 59% of BA and 71% of BSc degrees overall, and on 58% of BA and 70% of BSc degrees in Business Schools and 60% of BA and 72% of BSc degrees not in Business Schools. Applied econometrics and forecasting is offered on 18% of BA and 26% of BSc degrees overall, and on 25% of BA and 30% BSc degrees in Business Schools and 13% of BA and 25% of BSc degrees not in Business Schools.

Economic History is offered on 30% of BA and 29% of BSc degrees overall, and on 8% of BA and 20% of BSc degrees in Business Schools and 46% of BA and 31% of BSc degrees not in Business Schools. History of Economic Thought is offered on 15 of BAs and 20% of BSc degrees overall, and on 12% of BA and 10% of BSc degrees in Business Schools and 13% of BA and 23% of BSc degrees not in Business Schools.

The module most commonly offered as an elective in undergraduate Economics is Money and Banking: it is offered on 59% of BA and 71% of BSc degrees overall, and on 58% of BA and 60% of BSc degrees in Business Schools and 60% of BA and 74% of BSc degrees not in Business Schools. The next most frequently offered elective is Economics of Natural Resources and Environment: on 48% of BA and 51% of BSc degrees overall, and on 50% of BA and 70% of BSc degrees in Business Schools and 46% in BA and 46% of BSc degrees not in Business Schools.

Other popular electives include International Economics (44% of BA and 44% of BSc degrees overall, and on 58% of BA and 50% of BSc degrees in Business Schools and 33% of BA and 43% of BSc degrees not in Business Schools); Development economics (41% of BA and 53% of BSc degrees overall, and on 12% of BA and 50% of BSc degrees in Business Schools and 80% of BA and 54% of BSc degrees not in Business Schools); Labour Market Economics (40% of BA and 44% of BSc degrees overall, and on 50% of BA and 50% of BSc degrees in Business Schools and 33% of BA and 43% of BSc degrees not in Business Schools); Industrial Economics (33% of BA and 53% of BSc degrees overall, and on 33% of BA and 50% of BSc degrees in Business Schools and 33% of BA and 54% of BSc degrees not in Business Schools).

Game theory as a separate module is taught on 33% of BA and 41% of BSc degrees, and on 50% of BA and 50% of BSc degrees in Business Schools and 20% of BA and 25% of BSc degrees not in Business Schools.

Behavioural economics is offered on 18% of BA and 6% of BSc degrees overall, and on 25% of BA and 0% of BSc degrees in Business Schools and 6% of BA and 8% of BSc degrees not in Business Schools.

Work placement is offered on 26% of BA and 13% of BSc degrees overall, and on 41% of BA and 20% of BSc degrees in Business Schools and 13% of BA and 11% of BSc degrees not in Business Schools.

An Economics Dissertation is offered on 37% of BA and 46% of BSc degrees overall, with 50% on both BA and BSc degrees in Business Schools and 26% on BA and 45% on BSc degrees not in Business Schools; while an Economics or Econometrics Applied Project is offered on 40% of BA and 31% of BSc degrees overall, with 41% on BA and 30% of BSc in Business Schools and 40% on BA and 31% of BSc degrees not in Business Schools.

Course comparison between BAs and BSc programs and between programs
offered in Business Schools and not in Business Schools

From Table 1 one can see differences between courses offered for BAs and BSc lies in the amount of higher-level quantitative subjects offered in the degrees:

  • Quantitative Methods: 22% on BA and 56% on BSc degrees
  • Econometrics: 59% on BA and 71% on BSc degrees
  • Applied Econometrics and Forecasting: 18% on BA and 26% on BSc degrees
  • Game theory: 33% on BA and 41% on BSc degrees

At the same time general Core Skills for Economists courses are more often provided for BA degrees (40%) than for BSc (31%); and Mathematical and Statistical Methods: 74% for BA and 64% to BSc.

International Economics is offered equally on both BA and BSc degrees (50% on each), while Development Economics (41% and 53%), Industrial Economics (33% and 53%) and History of Economic Thought (15% and 20%) are offered on more BSc degrees then BAs.

Behavioural economics, on the contrary, is offered more on BA degrees than on BSc degrees: 18% compared with 6%.

Work placement is offered on 26% of BA degrees and 13% of BSc.

There are differences in the electives offered by departments located in Business Schools and not in Business Schools. Modules that have most differences are:

  • Advanced Macroeconomics: 12% (BA) and 30% (BSc) in Business Schools and 46% (BA) and 48% (BSc) not in Business Schools
  • Macroeconomic Policy: 8% (BA) and 0% (BSc) in Business Schools and 13% (BA) and 31% (BSc) not in Business Schools
  • Economic History: 8% (BA) and 20% (BSc) in Business Schools and 46% (BA) and 31% (BSc) not in Business Schools
  • Development Economics: 12% (BA) and 50% (BSc) in Business Schools and 80% (BA) and 54% (BSc) not in Business Schools
  • Game Theory: 50% (BA) and 50% (BSc) in Business Schools and 20% (BA) and 25% (BSc) not in Business Schools
  • International Economics: 58% (BA) and 50% (BSc) in Business Schools and 33% (BA) and 43% (BSc) not in Business Schools
  • Core Skills for Economists: 58% (BA) and 30% (BSc) in Business Schools and 26% (BA) and 31% (BSc) not in Business Schools

How the course is taught and assessed

The information on how courses are taught and assessed was collected from UNISTATS http://unistats.direct.gov.uk/ , which publishes Key Information Sets (KIS). We used data for 60 departments that teach Economics L100.

Table 2 How the course is taught and assessed

How the course is taught
Min – max
Mean
% time in lectures, seminars and similar
14 – 36
21
     Year 1
14 – 38
23
     Year 2
12 – 38
22
     Year 3
10 – 38
18
     Year 4
9 – 30
16
% time in independent study
 
 
     Year 1
62 – 86
77
     Year 2
62 – 85
78
     Year 3
62 – 86
76
     Year 4
50 – 91
82
How the course is assessed
% course work
0 – 87
30
     Year 1
0 – 74
28
     Year 2
0 – 87
28
     Year 3
0 – 100
30
     Year 4
26 – 84
48
% written exams
 
 
     Year 1
13 – 100
68
     Year 2
13 – 100
70
     Year 3
0 – 100
63
     Year 4
16 – 74
50
% practical exams (23 departments)
0 – 21
5