Students Express Concern With Economics
story Ying Tong Lai
As the pioneer batch of Yale-NUS College students prepare to declare their majors by March 13, concerns remain over the Economics major. Most pressing among issues raised by students are the perceived shortage of professors and limited options for specialization.
At present, Director of the Social Sciences Division Jane Jacobs serves as acting Economics Head of Studies, in lieu of professor Rene Saran, who is on an unpaid leave of absence. It is unclear when Mr. Saran will return. “I’m not an economist,” Ms. Jacobs explained, adding that she currently works to recruit Economics professors and overseeing curriculum development. “I go to my senior visitors and to my juniors … [and] I take advice from them all the time,” Ms. Jacobs said.
Mr. Saran’s leave of absence coincides with a scheduled “break year” in recruitment for the economics professors. President Pericles Lewis said that this cycle of faculty recruitment did not focus on psychology and economics and that the College is likely to hire more in those areas next year. According to Ms. Jacobs, the full team of eight economists will only be complete by August 2016.
“We had to concentrate on other areas,” Ms. Jacobs said. “You can’t do all the searches at once because every search brings in hundreds of dossiers and applications, and there’s only so many of us.” She explained that Yale-NUS would be “cycling back” into Economics recruitment next year.
According to Manas Punhani ’17, there were approximately thirty students enrolled in Intermediate Microeconomics last semester, but only 10–15 currently enrolled in Intermediate Macroeconomics. Both are required courses for the Economics major. The reduced interest may be due to “the way economics was handled”, “people just lost interest”, “or the fact that we don’t have a Head of Studies who is an economics-dedicated person”, Punhani said.
The Economics faculty currently consists of three permanent professors—Yibei Liu, Guillem Riambau-Armet, and Rene Saran—and two visiting professors, Joanne Roberts and Eugene Chew. Both visiting professors will be in the College until the end of 2015. According to Ms. Jacobs, two more permanent professors are scheduled to join the College next semester—Julien Labonne and Francis Dennig. Depending on student interest, Ms. Jacobs said they may consider hiring more professors, “to make sure that our staff-student ratio is appropriate and favorable.”
Yet it is uncertain if the current Economics faculty is sufficient to offer enough diversity in advanced-level courses. A prospective Economics sophomore, who did not wish to be named, said, “They’re only offering really basic courses: things that are not specialized … There’re a lot of students interested in finance, but they’re not even planning on offering it here, at least in the short term.”
“We are aware that there’s a lot of demand for finance, so we’re definitely working on that,” Mr. Riambau-Armet said. “But as a liberal arts college, it’s always going to be very hard to cover all areas, and that’s just because the numbers are smaller.”
For the next recruitment cycle, Ms. Jacobs acknowledged the need for a senior economist “who can really head things up and offer mentorship to the junior faculty but also help with the students.” In the short term, students also have the option to take courses at the National University of Singapore (NUS). However, NUS courses count for fewer modular credits than those offered at Yale-NUS, so students would have to take extra courses to make up the difference.
The possible lack of diversity in faculty expertise becomes an even greater concern for capstone projects in senior year, which require “directed research under the supervision of an Economics faculty member”, according to the Yale-NUS website. “This will have to be in a field that the professor knows a lot about,” Punhani said. “Because there will be a limited number of faculty members at the time, I fear that this may limit the number of choices that we have as students.”
Currently, Ms. Jacobs said the Economics department already has “a diverse range”, including Francis Dennig, a micro-economist with a specific interest in environment economics and Yibei Liu, a specialist in international organizations and international finance. She estimated that the full team of eight economists will be complete “by the time the inaugural group of students are in Year 4.”
As the deadline for declaring a major nears, students have been communicating more of these concerns to the faculty. Punhani said, “I don’t think we had been pushing enough, and that responsibility lies with us. Now we’re pushing a lot more.”
Still, Punhani acknowledged that these are the struggles of being a new college. “I think the school is actually trying pretty hard,” Punhani added.
The online article has been edited as of March 12, 2015 to reflect corrections made to a quote by Manas Punhani ’17.