The economic world is in the throes of tumultuous change and economists make an attempt at both interpreting and prognosticating these changes. In keeping with the times, the B.A. (Honours) Economics programme has witnessed a radical change in the last three years: the compulsory courses have been revamped and a wide array of optional courses is offered in the third year.
Economic theory concerns itself with building tractable models — a model is best thought of as a map of a socio-economic subsystem, picking out its principal features and leaving out the inessential details. The building of a model is a work of art — it demands both imagination and analytical skills. The latter are often provided through some degree of surefootedness in Mathematics.
The revised undergraduate syllabus in Economics certainly accentuates the importance of economic theory: apart from the compulsory modules in Microeconomics and Macroeconomics in second year, optional courses in third year include Game Theory and Advanced Macroeconomics. Based on a set of assumptions, models conclude with a set of propositions that are often subjected to empirical verification.
The easy availability of both data and statistical packages has led to the blossoming of Econometrics as an important sub-discipline within Economics. Students with a science background in Class 12 would certainly have a comparative advantage in Economic Theory and Econometrics.
Economics, however, is a broad church and the systematic study of the resilience and collapse of economic institutions in the face of a rapidly changing global economic environment is an important part of the undergraduate syllabus. Why did planning suggest itself as a natural strategy in the aftermath of independence and why does it appear to have lost its sheen more recently? Can a strategy which integrates India with the global economy, through both trade and financial flows, be socially ‘inclusive’ in offering the destitute and the marginalized a share of the pie?
Similarly, how would the Indian economy deal with the hike in oil prices even as the growth surge of the last five years peters out? Should the Indian state permit full capital account convertibility when the more sophisticated American financial system is afflicted by the sub-prime crisis? The undergraduate programme in Economics may not provide all the answers but creates frameworks in which such questions can be posed and analysed. Important sub-disciplines, which include the economics of environment, health and education, challenge those fascinated by policy issues.
If engineering students were to be excluded, students of economics would appear to have an edge in most MBA programmes. Those with a more academic bent of mind opt for MA programmes in Economics or Finance. Banks (including investment banks such as McKenzie, Lehman Brothers and ICICI) appear keen to employ both postgraduates and undergraduates at extremely lucrative salaries. Most colleges and postgraduate institutions have active placement cells. The civil services and MA programmes in Public Policy are also viable options for students of Economics.
Finally, the pursuit of a doctoral degree in Economics is not merely an end in itself — those with a Ph.D., when not lured by international organizations like the World Bank and the IMF, often come back to India and teach, keeping alive the spark in bright young minds which are attempting to comprehend, and participate in, a rapidly changing world.