The Ronald Tress Memorial Lecture: Trump, Brexit and Economics

Professor Wendy Carlin CBE discussed her pioneering role leading the international CORE project, and why teaching economics matters more than ever in times of uncertainty.

L-R: Professor David Latchman, Professor Sarah Hart, Professor Wendy Carlin, Professor Philip Powell

On Monday 23 October 2017, Birkbeck’s School of Business, Economics and Informatics held the Ronald Tress Memorial Lecture, to commemorate the life and work of a hugely influential British economist and former Master of Birkbeck.

Having been active during WWII as an Economic Adviser to the British War Cabinet, Ronald Tress played a vital role in the development of the post-war Marshall Plan for Western European economic recovery. During his tenure as Master of the College between 1968 and 1977, he established the Economics Department at Birkbeck, now the Department of Economics, Mathematics and Statistics (EMS). In a special welcome to Ronald Tress’ daughter and son-in-law, Mrs Janet and Mr Keith Whitham, and his grandson Mr John Tress, Professor David Latchman, serving Master of Birkbeck, paid tribute to Ronald Tress’ lasting influence on economics, on Birkbeck and on higher education.

Wendy Carlin CBE, Professor of Economics at UCL, delivered this year’s lecture. As part of her research on macroeconomics, institutions and economic performance, Professor Carlin is leading an international project – the CORE project – to reform the undergraduate economics curriculum. The CORE Project has produced an open-access e-book for a first course in economics, which is now being used by many universities worldwide, including UCL, Humboldt Berlin, Sciences Po and Birkbeck.

Professor Sarah Hart, Head of EMS at Birkbeck, welcomed guests to the College’s Keynes’ Library in an address that connected CORE teaching principles to the department’s recent success in the National Student Survey (NSS): “Having been named second in London for our teaching of economics in this year’s NSS, we are particularly delighted that this year’s Ronald Tress lecture will be delivered by a real pioneer of an innovative, applicable way to teach economics, from which our students clearly benefit.”

Professor Carlin’s lecture, entitled Trump, Brexit and Economics, provided an engaging overview of the way economics has been taught in Higher Education institutions to date, and how the teaching of economics must be more student-centred, motivated by real-world problems and real-world data: “Through an evaluation and revival of its teaching, CORE hopes to address this paradigmatic failure in economics.”

The CORE project was born as a response to widespread dissatisfaction among students, professors, and employers that classroom economics has become increasingly out of touch with what the general public needs to know to become informed about how contemporary economies work- and how they could be made better. It takes its name from its position as a Curriculum Open-access Resource in Economics, but also for its commitment to put teaching and students back at the core of economics. By way of example, Professor Carlin drew on recent research conducted by the CORE team in autumn 2016, where over 5000 new undergraduate students were asked: what is the most pressing issue that economists today should address?

Common themes were globalisation, Brexit, automation and technology, but the overwhelming majority of students worldwide named inequality as their primary concern: Professor Carlin described her hope that “the innovative approach and accessibility of CORE will provide a more informed public, to foster a culture of fairness as well as efficiency.” 

Professor Carlin then kindly answered a range of questions from the audience based on topics covered in the talk, with perspectives from professionals and academics involved in economics and business. In his vote of thanks, Professor Sandeep Kapur from Birkbeck EMS praised the CORE project for its breadth and new economic thinking, and Professor Carlin’s dedication to making economics exciting to study. 

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