UK Higher Education Economics

This section aims to provide useful information for those teaching economics in higher education in the UK, giving a brief overview of the UK educational system and its organisations, as well as UK economics undergraduate teaching.

The UK educational system

Students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland typically gain entry to UK higher education through the attainment of A levels at secondary school. Maths A level is a requirement for some UK economics degrees (economics A level is not). Undergraduate degrees in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are 3 years long.

The Scottish educational system differs, with students gaining Highers instead of A levels, and degrees lasting 4 years. The first year at degree level at Scottish universities is a non-specialist year involving several subjects. This system presents different problems to economics lecturers in Scotland including teaching economics to non-specialists in the first year; retention of economics students (and the uptake of non-economics students) from the first to the second year of economics degrees; and the retention of second year students once they have started specialist study.

For a comparison of qualifications across the UK and how these correspond with European qualification frameworks see the UK Higher Education Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) website. For specific information about UK economics qualifications both at secondary and higher education level see official documents and syllabuses.

UK economics undergraduate teaching

Economics undergraduate teaching in the UK usually consists of the following for each module or unit:

  • One or more lectures (large group teaching) per week – which is usually a talk or a presentation but can involve interaction and activities.
  • Weekly or fortnightly seminars (small group teaching) - which often focus on economic papers, problem sets or activities to deepen students’ understanding of the module subject.
  • Assessments – including formative assessment (where students receive feedback but the mark does not formally count) and summative assessment (where the mark does count). Typically, economics summative assessments consist mostly of end of term written exams, but can also include coursework (such as essays) and other activities such as wikis, projects, online tests etc.
  • Independent study by students (including formative assessment activities and reading etc). Most economics students are expected to spend around 70% of their overall study time engaged in independent study. A key component of designing and delivering a course is to structure and motivate this independent work.

There might be additional computer labs, exercise lectures, clinics, drop-in sessions or other support sessions aimed at providing practice at key skills and techniques employed in the module.

In terms of the overall design of economics courses and programmes, a national framework that shapes the structure and content of curricula is provided by the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), the regulatory body for UK HE institutions:

  • The QAA economics subject benchmark statement provides guidance about the aims of degree programmes in economics, and specifies the subject knowledge and the subject-specific and other skills that students are expected to accrue during their studies. The economist’s way of thinking and the importance of transferable concepts are also emphasised.

UK Higher Education agencies and organisations