Discover Economics

Discover Economics is a UK campaign led by the Royal Economic Society which aims to broaden the appeal of economics to potential students, change their perceptions of economics and economists and attract more students from under-represented groups (women, state school/further education college students and ethnic minorities). The campaign targets 15–17-year-olds – young people who are making choices about what post 16 qualifications to take and what subjects to study at university. We are collaborating with them on the Student Champion (SC) Outreach program.

This pilot project will provide engaging opportunities, delivered by undergraduates, for school students who lack easy access to information about economics, to find out about economics and studying economics at university. Discover Economics, in partnership with us, will then evaluate the effect of outreach sessions on perceptions of/interest in economics and, as a follow up, university applications and outcomes.

The project is designed to address the problem of under-representation of Women, Black, Pakistani, Bangladeshi and state schools’ students in undergraduate economics. Another target is the problem of access. As a matter of fact, only half of non-grammar state schools/FE colleges offer Economics as an A level course, meaning that their students are unlikely to get an early exposure to the subject. Differently, around 80% of grammar, state selective and private schools offer Economics as an A level. Although an A level course is not necessary to enrol in economics degrees, it gives an informational advantage which creates substantial barriers. Finally, another goal of the project is to prevent the stereotypical identification of economists with people who work in the city or forecast the economy, and rather create an image of economists as social scientists with quantitative and analytical skills that can be applied to many different topics in a wide range of different jobs.

The program will support economics undergraduate students to deliver taster sessions to GCSE and A-level students in targeted schools around their universities.  They will work with existing widening participation leads in a range of different universities (interested partner unis include Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow, Greenwich, Manchester, UCL, UEA and Warwick), and where possible they will target schools that do not currently offer Economics A level. Schools which receive the program will have lessons delivered by ‘student champions’ (SCs), that is, specially trained university students. SCs will teach a session that links to the existing subject curriculum being studied (for instance, quadratic functions in GCSE maths and organisational design in A Level Business Studies), but which simultaneously highlights an economic issue, and uses it to begin a discussion about what economists study. Sessions, delivered to several classes, will be targeted at school students who are in either a GCSE year (Year 10/11 in England, or equivalent in other nations) or first year of A Level (Year 12, or equivalent).

As part of the program, Discover Economics will support partner universities to recruit and train SCs to deliver the material. Discover Economics will develop training materials and have a trainer from Teach First – who are experienced in supporting new graduates in learning to teach – train the SCs. They will also develop delivery materials, including lesson plans, games and exercises and accessible topics. This will additionally include standardised material on economics degrees and careers etc. The material will be designed for different audiences (GCSE/A level) and to be delivered in a range of different lessons (maths, business, geography, PHSE, as well as economics). There will be a focus on real-world problems, which we know through previous work are engaging for young people. They will provide teachers with information regarding follow-up support such as guidance on how to apply to university, potential degree programs for studying economics, information about the grades and previous subject requirements for these programs, support on offer at different universities, career options, games and exercises, events, and more information about economics.

The program will be evaluated using a staggered roll-out design. Widening participation schools which are eligible to receive the program will be randomised to either receive the intervention in the initial year, or to receive it only the following year.  

We currently have links with 24 universities. Eight have already agreed to support the pilot, and we are in the process of recruiting additional universities. The outcomes that we will consider range from understanding the effectiveness of the project in achieving its goals to an evaluation of the economic impact of the program.

In October 2022 Student Champions (mostly undergrad econ students) will be recruited in partner universities. This year the number of universities that Discover Economics has partnered with is 58 universities and they expect 290 student champions to enrol. In November and December 2022 Student Champions will complete Training modules. Finally, between January and July 2023, student champions will deliver their courses in school sites across home nations. Discover Economics is actively working on extending the set of participating schools, which to this date has already reached 250. The short term outcomes in the evaluation will be assessed in Summer 2023, while the medium and long term ones will be assessed over the next 2-3 years.

We consider that these in-person, large scale, targeted interventions with a tailored curriculum have a higher potential to increase the diversity of the pipeline in Economics than the initial outreach project we had, which was an online platform with a series of videos that would showcase economics concepts.

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