POST EVENT SUMMARY REPORT


 

Event title: University, Economics and Social Imagination: Panel Discussion and Report Launch

Event Organisers: Rethinking Economics India Network, with support from RE-JNU local chapter

Date of the event: 12th June 2022

VENUE OF THE EVENT: Centre for the Study of Law and Governance Seminar Hall, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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SUMMARY

 

The organisers from the Rethinking Economics India Network presented a welcome address and further went on to introduce the Curriculum Review process that the volunteers at the network undertook and explain the reasoning behind working towards the curriculum report in particular. The REIN representative also went on to summarise the methodology, observations and findings from the report.

 

After this presentation, the report titled ‘Pluralism in economics education: A review of undergraduate programmes in India’ was released by a panel of invited speakers. The panel consisted of Chirashree Dasgupta, Atul Sood, Dipa Sinha, Arindam Banerjee, Snehashish Bhattacharya and Ruchira Sen. The panel thereafter went into a discussion titled “University, Economics and Social Imagination”

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The chair for the event, Prof. Chirashree Das Gupta from the Jawahar Nehru University, put forth the following pointers as nudges: 

  • Methodology (that in terms of evolution of economics curricula in educational institutions, over time,) must be examined, for instance, taking into account pre-and post-liberalization changes. 

  • The impact of CBCS (choice based credit systems), NEP(National education Policy), privatisation, underfunding, and temporary appointments have on economics curricula. 

  • The politics of relegating heterodox content from core disciplines, such as the evolution of core versus canon disciplines. She also spoke about how Keynesian and neoclassical economics continue to dominate while marxist, feminist economics are offered only as electives and not in the mainstream. 

  • She also spoke about how there is a social imagination which perceives economics as a set of rules, theories and doctrines and drives the process of accumulation; how society is rendered exogenous to the economy. She says that the goal of economics, taught to us as efficiency is a myth, as profit maximisation and accumulation is the real goal, and this social process is hidden. 

 

The second panellist, Prof. Snehashish Bhattacharya of the South AsianUniversity,  explained disciplinarity. He explained how the idea of universities and the idea of economics as a discipline are parallel- that while the latter depended on the former, different ideas of social imagination arise from this relationship. He mentions how the idea of a university is a contested terrain and there is no singular meaning to it. He also brings into conversation the idea of a “universal space”, and talks about how, in a liberal university space, there is a gap between actual engagement and production relations; how an idealised university space is a republic of ideas and a separate entity by itself; and how the purpose  is to maintain status quo and existing power relations and hegemonic structures. 

 

Our third panellist, Dr. Dipa Sinha from Ambedkar University, made a comparative analysis of how economics in particular against other social science disciplines, sees a separation in academics and real world activity. She speaks about the state of undergraduate education and student mindsets, where freshmen economics undergraduates admit to choosing economics education to secure better future opportunities, or because they are good with numbers, or their interest in the stock market; against an interest in society and social change. She also brings to light some challenges:

  • Students demanding mainstream economics for better job prospects

  • Being able to do economics from a position of awareness of social positions such as caste, gender, religion, etc. 

  • How, in heterodox economic analysis, there are multiple interpretations and conclusions.

  • How alternative schools of thought are viewed as less rigorous and less theoretical than mainstream economics; or how they are viewed as a critique or reaction and; 

  • How sometimes the curriculum is not based in the Indian context. One instance that was brought up in the discussion was how, when health economics is taught, it includes cases from the US insurance based health market, without taking into consideration realities in a country like India. 

 

The fourth panellist, Prof. Atul Sood of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, explained how reimagining is impossible in the current context until we address the direction that education is currently heading towards, and how there is a need to contest these contexts where both education in general and economics education in particular is changing direction. He quoted Chomsky “to be educated is to be able to inquire and develop independent and constructive arguments”; Friedman “Philosophy  lost its way in competition with hard sciences in universities, where it became institutionalised”; and Nietzsche “true education is not rote-learning and developing culturing signifiers, but breaking from conventions and creating our own existence”. He also spoke of the disconnect between university and social imagination. He spoke about the downsides of looking into the realities of society as it can, according to him, lead to contemporary structures of social sciences and ignore arbitrary, irrational and ambiguous realities. He speaks about two errors to be avoided - (a) The major empiricist error- grasping only the appearance alone; (b) The minor holistic error- missing out on the richness of the constituents. He also spoke about the purpose of social sciences, and how it is, to unravel the truth for the poor, oppressed and the marginalised. 

 

The fifth panellist, Dr. Arindam Banerjee from Ambedkar University, drew upon the debate of economics versus social imagination as well, and brought into discussion, how the context of evolution lies in the spread of capitalism and its large scale organisation as well as the concept of productivity. He spoke about how  working hours reduced as a result of trade union activity and as capitalism took hold, working hours increased, leading to psychological and cultural changes; and how the digital revolution lengthened the working day.

 He quotes Mao “put politics in command, not economics; economics is often in contradiction with political aspirations”. He also spoke about the ecological distance in economics education. 

 

The sixth panellist, Dr. Ruchira Sen from OP Jindal University,  drew upon the idea of a neoliberal university as well, where students are obsessed with measurability and ranks. Taking into context the use of economics in different areas such as marriage, sports, etc.; she spoke about how narrow imperialist methods are used to teach, and how there is no sociological, political or anthropological lens used to study economics and therefore is an incomplete approach.  She imagined the students to be customers, however believes that universities are not providing customer service. She also spoke about the discord between teachers and academics, and how teachers are marked and ranked, how numbers and statistics are viewed as more important than excellence. She also speaks about how scholars take lesser risks as a result. She compared business schools to liberal arts institutions that while they are divided by ideologies, they serve the same ends.

 

After the initial thoughts from all the panellists on the state of economics education in universities, the session was opened up to the audience, where some interesting questions popped up including: 

  • What is the convergence between heterodox and mainstream economics? How can job-oriented aspirations of students be addressed as a challenge to teach heterodox economics? 

  • Why is there not a reform at the high school level of teaching instead of undergraduate or postgraduate economics education? 

  • Why are social imaginations on another individual’s behalf? Shouldn’t everyone consider this process? 

 

In response to the question on social imaginations, Prof. Atul Sood debated on whether social sciences can be value-neutral and suggested imagining social realities on a day to day basis. With regards to the job aspirations of students, Dr. Ruchira sen states the reality of job prospects depending on the brand and popularity of the university rather than its approach towards economics. With regards to a reform at the high school level in economics curriculum, Dr.  Dipa Sinha stated that NCERT textbooks of class 9 and 10 are progressive to some extent but disappear in the higher secondary and higher degrees. In relevance, Dr. Gupta pointed out that only 3% of primary school students enter university. Dr. Sinha also mentioned that it is challenging to introduce heterodox economics courses in neoliberal university spaces; while Prof. Snehashish Bhattacharya mentions how teachers are not capable of teaching or rather not allowed to teach alternative theory as it doesn’t add to market value. He mentions how challenging hegemony in a stratified society is difficult. He mentions how economics is a political project with real implications for social imaginations.  Dr. Arindam Banerjee brings to light the problem with teaching diversified economic theories, as in many departments in colleges, there are not enough teachers/professors.

In terms of suggestions to improve economics curriculum,  Dr. Arindam Banerjee suggested introducing non-economic theories. Dr. Ruchira Sen suggested introducing the “social reproduction” theory at the undergraduate level and emphasised on the importance of the introduction to economics class. She agrees that more methods need to be brought in, and reforming at the school level is important, but understanding and critiquing theories is important at the undergraduate level. 

 

The session ended with a vote of thanks. 

 

To read the report ‘Pluralism in economics education: A review of undergraduate programmes in India’, click here

 

And to get involved in our Curriculum Reform project or for any query, drop us an email on india@rethinkeconomics.org