Azim Premji Uni 1
Tue 19th September 2017

At a recently-established university, CORE inspires students to debate, perform experiments and use economics in cross-disciplinary learning

Type of institution: University
Location: Bengaluru, India
Course: Economics
Department: Economics
Number of students: 16

Azim Premji University (APU) was established as a not-for-profit, private autonomous university in 2010, and started teaching economics in 2015. As a new institution, APU was determined not to create an economics course that was outdated or narrow, or relied on rote learning. Economics at APU was to include history, politics, and sociology, with a modern perspective that was relevant to Indian students who found standard textbooks remote from their everyday experience of the world.

‘CORE is flexible enough to adapt to local circumstances and give students the best of current economics. Debates on inequality, the environment, the role of the government, and innovation is hugely exciting for students,’ Professor Arjun Jayadev, who as well as teaching at APU is also one of the authors of the The Economy, explains, ‘Making the syllabus speak to them and their concerns is the first priority for me as a teacher.’

Debates on inequality, the environment, the role of the government, and innovation is hugely exciting for students.

But would Indian students, who are more accustomed to a culture of formal lectures and rote learning, embrace CORE’s interactive classroom model? Tutor Venu Narayan remembers the first intake of students:
‘A CORE exercise called ‘Capitalism amongst Consenting Adults’ triggered an intense debate surrounding the relationship between economics and morality. The questions raised were intricate and complex. Should individual contracts, such as the sex trade, the marketing of babies and vote selling–that cause no harm anyone–be allowed? The response from students was unprecedented! Discussions which began in the classroom in such a heated manner, continued in the dormitories well into the night.’

When not debating in the dormitories, students were successfully taking on the economic principles of competition, scale, and diminishing marginal product by making paper planes, using an economic game created by Professor Juan Camilo Cardenas, which is one of the CORE teaching resources.

‘More than 300 paper planes lay in a gigantic pile in the corner of my classroom. They were made over half an hour amidst a lot of hollering, hooting and cheering from competing ‘firms’,’ Professor Jayadev recalls in Azim Premji University’s new economic game,CORE’s flexibility has also helped. APU is at the centre of creating a localised version of the material, adapted for South Asian priorities and data. Already, APU has supplemented the text with its own integrated topics. These have included the 1943 Bengal famine, the green revolution, and demographic changes across states, as well as uneven growth in the country, from the beginning of the course.

‘In Unit 1 we introduced different outcomes across the Indian states in terms of growth and distribution, which gave examples of some of the explanations of uneven growth. We discussed structural transformation and the difference between a modern industrialised economy and the Lewis-type economy that is more recognisable in India,’ Professor Jayadev explains.

Students weren’t just thinking creatively in economics classes. The institution promotes the links between subjects and encourages students to explore them. Professor Jayadev recalls sitting in on a class about the birth of the novel in nineteenth century Europe. A 17-year-old economics student from his class interrupted the lecture to ask whether the industrial revolution, the breakdown of feudal ties, and the rise of a bourgeois class were central to the rise of the novel? Later, she sent him a message:
‘The discussion in the literature class also made me think deeper about what an extremely important and all-encompassing field economics is,’ she wrote, ‘and I am so glad to be learning it.’