Political Economy in Australian Universities

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This paper builds on a 2005 study that reviewed introductory political economy (heterodox economics) subjects throughout Australian universities. This paper surveys the teaching of political economy in general, with a particular focus on explaining where growth and decline has occurred. The paper also presents the results of a survey of staff who teach political economy, to assess their background and views on the state of Australian political economy teaching. One of the key findings of the survey work is that the work of Professor Frank Stilwell and his colleagues at the Department of Political Economy has been central to the development of Australian Political Economy and that this department seems to currently offer the most promising template for the development of political economy in Australian universities.

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  • Argyrous and Thornton
    This is an interesting paper on the situation regarding teaching in Australian universities. It makes me wish we had received more country-specific contributions. It raises issues on how to choose a strategy leading to higher offers of Political Economy (PE) courses in universities throughout the world.
    For those of us wishing for more PE teaching in our universities, the authors advocate the following strategies: (1) try getting established in Social Sciences Faculties rather than in Business Schools. (2) Try to establish a Political Economy Department rather than accept a special module or two on so-called ‘radical economics’ within a traditional Economics Department. The latter strategy leads to political economists being – and being seen to be by students as – marginal.
    I can see the rational for such a strategy. However, I feel that strategies must be developed in relation to the context. In a context in which there is already an established group of PE teachers this seems to be the best strategy. But what if there is hardly any political economist – or may be one or two – in the department and faculty? How do we start? And more important how do we secure some jobs for the many political economists out there who are seeking jobs? Finding these jobs is where I want to start from; once our political economists have found jobs we can be sure that some unorthodox views will be taught.
    This is why I think that there are many situations in which a different strategy may be called for; a strategy in which political economists secure a job in a traditional department may be accepting to teach a traditional course and then inserting into it political economy elements. If this leads to more jobs for political economists than our subject will be better off in the longer run. Moreover, this strategy will help to convey to students the idea of pluralism in economics; that problems can be seen from different theoretical perspectives.
    My experience of teaching in a Business School for many years is that this strategy can work and that you can convey your radical views to students. If anything more so within Business Schools – where students want real world economics – than within traditional economics departments where abstraction is more accepted.
    Some specific points on the paper and in particular on table 2. The first part of this table lists 5 sub disciplines most likely to be chosen. May there be overlap between them? Does Heterodox Economics include some teaching on Comparative economic systems or development etc.? I also think it would be interesting to know whether the choice of ‘Economics of Developing Countries’ or Comparative Economic Systems’ is related to foreign students in La Trobe University.