Saturday, 29 November 2014

Curriculum Reform at Boğaziçi University in Istanbul, Turkey

A summary of the campaign to change the economics curriculum at Boğaziçi University

By Anil Askin and Serkant Adiguzel at the Boğaziçi Political Economy Society (BPES) –

In April 2013, BPES wrote a petition to be shared with economics students ( Since BPES did not have any chance to spread the news through internal email, they figured out another way: social media. Each class of economics students has a separate group on Facebook. In May 2013, BPES started joining those groups and shared the petition. This had two effects. Posting the petition created an opportunity to discuss some points with students at different phases in their study of economics. In other words, BPES had this great chance to witness various demands, concerns and criticisms, which indeed let BPES make concrete points afterwards. Second, BPES found social media an effective way to make contact with fellow students: social media was the right place to announce when and where BPES were going to meet on campus. BPES learned a lot from this form of campaigning, from those who did not intentionally and explicitly formulate their ideas around “pluralism”, “heterodoxy” or any well-defined concept in opposition to the mainstream economics. Discussing these ideas revealed a common and huge discontent with regard to economics teaching in general.

At the end of May 2013, BPES were ready to hand in hard copies of documents to the department. BPES also sent documents via email to all professors individually, right before the departmental meeting in June, which was closed to students. Then the process had begun. For one year, the department had tried to develop a different curriculum: even mainstream economists at Boğaziçi University were not happy with the way things were going. Although it was hard to say that students’ demands and the department’s projection were completely parallel to each other, the discontent was common.

The most important change towards pluralism in the undergraduate curriculum came with the new compulsory course called “Evolution of Economies and Economics”, which indeed was proposed in the petition: all the second year students now must take this course. Although the syllabus of the course is not prepared yet, BPES can say that students will be aware that what they learn is not the only way and there are other schools of thoughts in economics.

The new curriculum offers more selective courses ranging from feminist or institutional economics to Marxian economics. There were some restrictive electives before, mainly aiming to teach neoclassical theory at an advanced level such as advanced macroeconomics or advanced microeconomics. Students had to take these “restrictive elective” courses and they had no chance to take another course in lieu of these courses. Now, these courses are part of the elective course pool showing that the hierarchy between courses such as “gender and the economy” - which has been an elective course - and, say, advanced macroeconomics - which was a restrictive elective - has now vanished. The new pool consists of many courses from which students are free to choose. Hence, students have the chance to shape their interests and to be exposed to different schools.

A key part of criticism was the disconnection of courses and real life. BPES expect more real life examples in all courses so that students can truly understand the reflections of the theory in real life. Inclusion of real life examples requires greater student-teacher discussion in class. The changes that took place in undergraduate economics curriculum at Boğaziçi University are a big step forward.

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