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The importance of studying economics

Source: University of Bath HSS

Numbers are crucial in contemporary life. Figures have told us just how we – societies, governments, businesses, households and individuals – are allocating the world’s scarce resources. At a time of rapid technological development and climate change, we are seeing exponential leaps in humanity, but also the probability of doing irreversible damage to the natural world.

We must make sense of these numbers – and fast.

Enter: economics.

Economics is a social science that seeks, analyses and describes the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services. Alfred Marshall, a leading 19th-century English economist, defined it as “a study of mankind in the ordinary business of life; it examines that part of individual and social action which is most closely connected with the attainment, and with the use of the material requisites of wellbeing”.

In the next century, English economist Lionel Robbins defined economics as “the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between (given) ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.”

There is no neat definition of economics. As Canadian-born economist Jacob Viner said, “Economics is what economists do.” Difficult as it is to define economics, it’s not hard to see the breadth of its application and influence today.

Legislators and leaders consult economists before making major decisions. Is this financial investment worthwhile? Will universal healthcare increase life spans? Should we raise the minimum wage? What’s the ideal price of bread?

Hardly any government, international agency or large commercial bank can function without economists at hand. Many other industries – from accounting and marketing, to real estate and education – are similarly dependent on individuals with the ability to predict responses to changes in policy and market conditions.

No doubt, we are living in “the age of economists” and there is no better time than now to further your knowledge of the discipline.

Qi Chang, a Master’s student in Economics and Finance at the University of Bath in the UK, is one such person to take advantage of this opportunity. Qi first came to Bath as a visiting student years ago. It was a fantastic experience for her then, inspiring her to enrol in the MSc programme.

Combining core economics with relevant finance topics, Qi believed the Master’s would be a suitable course for her future career, which she envisions to be in the realm of finance. The one-year, full-time programme ticks all the boxes in terms of what she wants from a postgraduate course in economics: a comprehensive refresher course in essential maths and economics? Check. Application of economics to tackle real financial issues associated with Brexit and the global financial crisis? Check. Academic teachers who are leading researchers and thinkers in economics? Check.

“The course met my future career needs by including both economic theory and financial knowledge, giving the whole economic picture and understanding of financial markets. The lecturers are knowledgeable and patient, helping me better understand the economic context,” she said.

Qi’s plan is to score a position in an investment bank post-graduation, and she believes she’s at exactly the right institution.

Her decision to deepen her knowledge of economics could not have come at a better time. Though STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) command headlines, the labour force shows that demand for economists is equally insatiable today.

Each year, around 400 universities grant around 900 new PhDs in economics. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a six percent growth in employment of economists from 2016 to 2026, with prospects being the brightest for those with a Masters degree or PhD, strong analytical skills and experience using statistical analysis software.

In fast-growing economies with a short supply of people experienced in crunching numbers, interpreting theoretical insights and policies as well as being capable of speaking to investors, they are even hotter commodities. China’s second-largest property developer, Evergrande, reportedly pays its chief economist an annual salary of 15m yuan (US$2.3m). Caijing, a respected financial magazine, wrote that chief economists at the Asian powerhouse’s top brokerages rake in salaries in the six- to eight-million yuan range (US$0.89-1.19 million), with figures predicted to increase further.

With more economics graduates entering the job market, junior entrants are likely to face greater competition although their prospects, as stated above, will still be bright. In this context, it’s important to distinguish oneself from the competition, says Alessio Mitra, another Masters student at the University of Bath.

Source: University of Bath HSS

To do so, Mitra enrolled in the university’s MSc Applied Economics programme, one of the few offered in the UK with this level of specialisation. It’s also one of the first in the UK to offer a Masters in Applied Economics Online, specialising in banking and financial markets to cater to time-pressed professionals looking to further their prospects in this versatile vocation. Other postgraduate courses offered at Bath include the MSc Applied Psychology and Economic Behaviour and MSc Economics.

In Mitra’s course, students receive advanced training in the analysis of problems in applied microeconomics, macroeconomics, econometrics and strategic decision-making. They then tailor the course to the area of business or policy they are most interested in, gaining additional expertise and a head start when seeking work in that field.

Mitra said: “If you’re interested in learning tools and knowledge, and want to use scientific methodology to help society, then this is the course for you.

“Given the applied nature of this course, you’re going to distinguish yourself from others. Your future employers are going to already know what you are very good at. In the competitiveness of the job market it’s very important to stand out.”

Find all about studying at Bath at one of their virtual Open Days, and follow Bath’s Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences on Instagram

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