Department of Economics

As researchers and students of economics we study how diverse real economies work and how economic institutions and policies can be used to improve the lives of all members of society. We cannot understand the modern world without understanding the impact of colonialism in many countries – both colonising and colonised – and its legacy for their economic performance today.

During the 20th century economics in Oxford benefited enormously from links with Commonwealth countries which brought talented economists to study and work here, particularly from India. Their research and teaching helped to establish Oxford’s approach to economics as outward-facing and global, with a particular focus on the economies of developing countries. Amongst other colleagues, Vijay Joshi spent most of his academic career in Oxford, as a college tutor who influenced generations of students, and whose own research was strongly influenced by the economic challenges facing the Indian economy. Professor Joshi’s most recent book, India’s Long Road, traces the development of India’s economy since independence, and the structural problems that need to be overcome for future prosperity. Sanjaya Lall, who was Professor of Development Economics when he died in 2005, first came to Oxford from India in 1960 to study Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE). He was a prolific researcher who also advised international organisations including the World Bank, Unicef and the Commonwealth Secretariat.  

Professor Lall was a leading member of Oxford’s growing group of development economists, which was strengthened during the 1980s with the establishment of the Centre for the Study of African Economies. The CSAE continues in its mission is to apply modern research methods to improve economic and social conditions for the poorest societies in the world, involving economists from the Department of Economics, the Blavatnik School, and the Department of International Development. . Its annual conference is one of the largest development economics conferences in the world, and brings researchers from Africa to Oxford each spring.  Its Visiting Fellowship Programme enables African academics to spend a term in Oxford and work with colleagues at the Centre.

Our degree courses, particularly PPE and the MPhil in Economics, have always attracted a diverse and international group of students. But economics is often taught in universities in an abstract and theoretical way or from a perspective that privileges the US and European economies. In recent curricular reforms we have moved towards a broader, more applied approach.  We have adopted a new first year undergraduate curriculum that aims to show students how the tools of economics can be applied, with a global and historical focus. The CORE curriculum shows students the wide range of economic conditions across the world and across time. The CORE curriculum is being developed further, with a South Asian adaptation that will have an explicit focus on colonialism. It already has a strong emphasis on problems of income inequality, but in its second edition this will be expanded to the study of inequalities by race and gender.   

Economic history at Oxford has traditionally focused on the British economy, but in recent years the economic history curriculum has been diversified in line with the more global approach that has emerged within the discipline. The relationship between rich core countries and the poorer periphery has played a large part in this global approach, and this inevitably involves a consideration of the role of empire. Stephen Broadberry, together with Kyoji Fukao from Hiotsubashi University, is editing the Cambridge Economic History of the Modern World, which will serve as a textbook for this new approach. These changes in the teaching programme have been mirrored by changes in the research programmes of the faculty. Although earlier generations of Oxford economic historians always wrote about aspects of the British empire and other parts of the world economy, the current faculty are all engaged in research with a focus on global issues. Recent research has covered the Great Divergence of productivity and living standards between Europe and Asia, economic growth in Africa during the colonial and post-colonial periods, Italian colonialism in North Africa, economic performance in the Islamic world from the beginning of the second millennium, industrial policy in South Korea, the international financial system, and early modern development in central and eastern and Europe.

Like many departments in the university, we are aware that the profile of our academic staff is not sufficiently diverse to reflect the diversity of the society within which we work, and provide a wide range of role models for our students. We have recently introduced initiatives to widen the pool of applicants for academic positions, and increase inclusivity in the working environment for staff and students. Every step we can take towards a greater diversity of perspectives will enrich the quality our teaching and research.