As a capstone unit for the Bachelor of Economics and the economics major in the Bachelor of Commerce, ECON381 Current Issues in Economics is a platform for students to integrate knowledge and skills from throughout their degree. Engagement with industry partners with support from the FBE PACE team provides a dynamic and engaging environment for ECON381 students to apply their knowledge of key principles in economics to real world problems, while adding value to the partner organisation. Each session, our industry partner presents an overview of their organisation to students and highlights current issues faced by their industry. Students work in groups to complete an economic research project, using industry-specific data, that addresses these challenges, guided by teaching staff. Through their research projects students learn how to analyse everyday issues within an economic framework, and how to manage the ins and outs (and ups and downs!) of completing a piece of original research. At the end of each session, the groups present their findings and policy recommendations to the industry partner in a conference setting. The industry partner also receives a copy of the final research report.
The applied nature of ECON381 provides a unique opportunity to highlight and build on research strengths within the Department of Economics, connecting academics and students with new and existing research partners, with the goal of forging long-lasting collaborations. In 2018, we built on relationships established with the Australian book industry through the Department’s successful ARC Discovery project ‘The Australian book industry: Authors, publishers and readers in a time of change’, led by Distinguished Professor David Throsby. During 2018, the Australian Publishers Association (APA) and the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) presented a range of issues, including digital disruption and income inequality within the Australian book industry. Many of the students’ group research projects were a natural extension of the work conducted during the Discovery project.
With enrolments of over 100 students per session, connecting research partners with ECON381 has been a unique way to add value to our research collaborations. As ASA CEO Juliet Rogers notes,
“all the students had put in such a lot of thought and hard work to investigate ways in which authors could potentially improve their earnings from writing and came up with an interesting array of conclusions. The whole exercise demonstrated just how valuable objective research can be if undertaken with respect and intelligence.”
At a time when there is more focus than ever on engaging with the end-users of research (in line with the ARC’s Engagement and Impact Assessment measures), the model developed in ECON381 has provided a tangible way to demonstrate these connections. In 2019, our relationship with the APA and ASA, strengthened through ECON381, has assisted with the development of a new externally funded research project that examines the international success of Australian books.
Students are also benefiting from closer ties to academic staff and industry partners, facilitated by ECON381. The unit provides a series of small group mentoring sessions, which allow students to connect with teaching staff outside a lecture environment. The development of a small scale supervised academic research project develops their research skills and helps students to differentiate themselves as they venture into the job market or on to the next step of their academic journey. Students can also benefit from the close ties formed with our industry partners. For example, Galia Corvera, a student from 2018, has used her links with the APA to organise sessions for the nationally recognised Australian Reading Hour and is responsible for the Sydney chapter of the BookSurfing initiative. Speaking about her experience with ECON381, Galia said:
“Thanks to this unit and the research project we developed for the APA, I realised I was passionate about strategy development and learnt that I could use economics to translate data into meaningful insights for commercial operations, a skill that is now very useful in my line of work.”
As ECON381 continues to grow, the unit will continue to facilitate connections between our teaching and research agendas while offering students and academic staff members a fresh perspective on current issues in economics.
If you want to learn more about ECON381, get in touch. If you’d like to discuss ways to engage with end-users of research in your PACE unit, contact the Academic Director of PACE in your faculty.
Congratulations, Paul! Great work on a great unit with major links to engagement and cutting-edge research.