CORE In Action: Economic Policy in Budapest

Fri 26th February 2016 | Blog

Anand Murugesan and Michael Dorsch teach at the School of Public Policy, a Central European University in Budapest. We asked them to tell us about their experience teaching the CORE syllabus to students who are particularly focused on the policy element of economics, and how CORE works – and does not work – for their students.

© 2014

There are a dozen students enrolled on Anand’s elective course at the School of Public Policy at CEU. They’re there to study economic policy – not the theoretical economics of most courses. Add to this that no two students are from the same country and we have yet another difference between Anand’s cohort and your typical economics class. Students come from South or Central America, North America, Africa, post-communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe, Central Asia, South and East Asia. It’s like talking with a batch of young recruits at the UN.

The students have different expectations of what they’re to learn as part of their degree – and yet the students in this elective course have all taken the required Economic Analysis class that we team-teach in Budapest, which is piloting the CORE curriculum. How do you adapt a resource like CORE for a diverse group of policy students?

Overall, the CORE curriculum has been well received by students, who particularly appreciate its many real world examples. As noted by Elisa Totino (Italy), an incoming student from Humboldt University Berlin:

“the frequent links to real world events make it easier to understand even quite complex topics.”

This diversity in background among our students translates to wide variations in understanding and experience with market capitalism, a situation that the CORE curriculum anticipates – and addresses. Some of the most energetic discussions in class were around the content on capitalism, and how it functions differently in the institutional contexts the students know.

The dynamic graphs and figures were another big hit.  Another student, Armine Hakhinyan (Armenia), who worked with the Central Bank of the Republic of Armenia immediately prior to joining the School of Public Policy, commented,

“The interactive graphs were brilliant, as one does not get lost in finding the line described, but can see it as it was described during the lecture.”

But, because of the applied focus of the School, our public policy students needed – and often demanded – to know more about the policy implications of theoretical topics. What menu of policy choices, they asked, can we develop using these methods that would improve the policy making process? For example, after introducing the nature and consequence of externalities, a systematic overview of policy tools or working examples of current policies that are being implemented somewhere would be invaluable: What do economists believe are the optimal tools in these circumstances – and why?  How does the political institutional context determine the extent to which an economist’s policy proposals can be implemented?

This is a drawback of the material for our students. Developing something similar concerning empirical analysis by providing students with sample datasets would be extremely useful, giving them experience with empirical work, and providing a segue into further concepts (quantitative) and topical courses in economics (similar to the exercises that work with FRED data in units 10 and 12).

Perhaps, relatedly, the length of the explanations – particularly the theoretical ones – were too long for some of the students. The units that provided empirical evidence to support their conclusions were a big hit, addressing economic issues with the real-life perspective that they value as students concerned with policy-making and analysis.

The bottom line? The response from our diverse group of students to the CORE curriculum has been positive, but they have also had some suggestions for ways we might improve it – to make it better for students generally, but particularly for those whose interest is real world economic policy.