Update from Siena and the YSI-STOREP Conference

Words by Cameron Fay, Economics Education Campaign Manager, RE

At the end of June, during the first of the heatwaves to hit Europe (at the time of writing we are watching the mercury surpass many records during the second major heatwave of the summer) I spent a week at the YSI-STOREP conference in Siena, Italy. The medieval Tuscan city was preparing forthe Palio – a twice yearly horse race in which ten jockeys ride bareback horses around the magnificent, semi-circular central square – Piazza del Campo. Already when the YSI delegates arrived,the streets around the square had been laid with a thick layer of sand and earth, preparing the ground over which the horses would lap the piazza.

The YSI organised pre-conference, running from evening 25th – 27th June, was an opportunity for young scholars to present their work and ideas in a range of working groups. Rethinkers took that opportunity with enthusiasm. The States and Markets working group, convened by Rethinking Economics Torino members, J.Christopher and Oleksandra, showcased some of the activities Rethinkers had been up to over the last year. In one of these, Francesca, of Rethinking Economics Firenze, gave a talk on her successful election as a student representative at her university, in which she used the platform of the elections to raise the profile of the campaign to reform economics education.

Following this, Sam, of RE Netherlands and co-author of ‘Thinking Like an Economist’, ran a workshopthat delved into the subject of one of his next projects – ‘Economy Studies’ – which seeks to provide a toolkit for creating the kind of economics curriculum we wish to see.

These two presentations demonstrate how members of the Rethinking Economics network are both using the existing levers of power to push for reform of their economics curricula and building their own alternatives, both of which will be necessary if the movement is to achieve the change we wish to see.

In the same working group, I presented the campaign that the Rethinking Economics network is launching in October – Rethinking the Role of Banks in Economics Education. The campaign will target a pervasive issue within economics education: how the role of banks in the economy, specifically in the monetary system, is taught poorly to student economists and the implications this has for our economies. These working groups provided a valuable time to critique, discuss and improve on the thoughts and ideas presented.

After a closing lecture by Alan Kirman on the nature of complexity and fake news (Prof. Kirman, amongst his other exploits, wrote the chapter on complexity economics in Rethinking Economics’ ‘Introduction to Pluralist Economics’) STOREP conference began in earnest. During parallel sessions on topics as wide ranging as the intricacies of Italian economists, economics in policy and politics, and issues in economic methodology, the energy and drive towards action of the movement for economics education reform was still abundantly present.

The Netzwerk Plurale Okonomic, alongside Cusunos University, presented the ambitious and exciting project to deliver a better economics education through their certificate programme for pluralist economics. In ‘hacking the Bologna system’, to quote Ana Reisch of the NPO, they are seeking to provide a better economics education ‘beneath the noses’ of the economics departments by using the process that seeks convergence between higher education qualifications across Europe. In another exciting development, after presenting the preliminary findings of their national survey of Italian economics teaching, Rethinkers from Torino were invited to collaborate with some of the more experienced professors in attendance to scale-up their project.

What was clear from these and other presentations, was the student movement’s drive for action, and the ability to take a step back from the theoretical or academic and situate the need for economics education reform in the real world.

As the formal conference rolled on, side discussions between representatives of Rethinking Economics, Netwerk Plurale Oekonomic, and Oikos started to delve deeper into the three networks. The multiple threads of the different organisations, all campaigning for better economics and business education, have been converging for some time, so to have a significant number of our members in the same place at the same time, was a gift to the movement. It gave the chance to talk about concrete actions moving forward – from projects to include more voices from the global south in economics education, to pan-European collaboration on reviewing curricula and campaigning. The strength of the movement lies in its dynamism and its willingness to act, so talking concretely about next steps is a key moment.

In these discussions, which bring together the ambitions of an international movement, we develop the path of the student movement for reform. The strengthening of the bonds between members of distinct but interdependent networks is like prepping the sands in the streets for our own Palio, over which the cavalry of the student movement race towards a renewed and reformed economics education.

In the end, the power of opportunities such as Siena, lies not just in providing the opportunity for young scholars – including Rethinkers – to present their ideas, or to have them critiqued and examined (although there is undoubtedly benefit in building the next generation of economic thinkers). There is arguably a greater value in creating the platform to forge relationships. It is in knowing that there is a multitude of intelligent, passionate and committed people pushing for a better economics education. It is in the reassurance that none of us are in this alone.

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