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posted April 2003


Economics Education in Countries Having Different Conditions from the Developed World

Mustafa Erdem Sakinç   (Undergraduate in economics, Middle East Technical University, Turkey)



The PAE debate started with the criticism of mainstream economics and its part in university education. However as the debate spread through the world and expanded to consider the practical areas of economics education, there occurrd some differences because of the different conditions of countries in which the debate was taking place.  People participating in the debate, should pay attention to these points because these differences can enhance the debate and assist us in finding solutions to the problems identified.


Such a point of view should be the takeoff subject of the debate in a country like Turkey. It is important to talk about the subjectivity of economics education, which should be formed by not only universal but also domestic economic thought and the current issues of the country itself. Topics like interdisciplinary education and interactions between different schools of economics would also be considered in the context of this subjectivity theme.  Complaints about curriculums, the deficiencies of education with regard to explaining the current economic problems, and the distance between theory and the reality should all be considered within the context of the particular country.


Before exploring this topic, a short trip into history may help to understand the importance of these remarks for the debate in Turkey. In an article about the education of economics in Darülfünun (today's İstanbul University) before the reforms, in the journal named Kadro (an etatist, progressive journal which was very important for the intellectual life in 1930s ) said that:

   "Subjects have been explained with cosmopolitan views but not with national, domestic economic process. Even this cosmopolitan way of thinking was not more than repeating the thoughts of French professors and French manuals"


What kind of economics education should have been followed int those times according to this journal need not concern us. However it is important for the current debate to realize that the expression of this complaint is not new for Turkey (the article of Eyüp Özveren which has the quotation above, shows that there was a much more dynamic atmosphere for the debate in those times) and apart from the theoretical deficiencies and incapabilities, the problem also depends on some structural reasons. And today, in a world dominated by globalization concepts there is a sameness process in education of economics like any other topics. It is necessary to develop a dynamic and highly perceptionalized education which considers new structures, institutions, etc important. Aside from the main topics of the debate, the geopolitical condition of Turkey and its position in the world economy together with the cloudy ambience of the time surely necessitates today an academic atmosphere having not an abstract theoretical framework but rather one focused on concrete processes and changes. This is a starting point like seventy years ago.


It is required to expand the positional and locational difference of countries like Turkey introduced above. Developing, under-developed, periphery, third world, however they are named, countries in these categories have differences from the centre of the system as a whole. They have low production per capita, low rates of literacy, low daily calorie consumption, low average lifetime, low energy consumption per capita, etc. and they do not have the basis for a strong economy and they have weak connections between different sectors in the economy. In brief, they can be named "low" and this is a datum for our topic and forms the positional difference.


Economics education which takes shape by considering this basic difference, can only be successful if it has a dynamic understanding especially in our era. Our era is important because there are tremendous structural changes in it (like collapse of the social and entrepreneur state) and economists which have the capability of research and creativity are necessary. For example, the crisis of Turkey today is hard to understand with current macro data and other theoretical tools, and as it deepens and diffuses non economic areas it is impossible to realize. Therefore, we are facing a three-legged problem, first one is the theoretical framework itself, second is the mistakes appearing with its application due to the different conditions in Turkey, and the third is it incapability to define changing conditions.


A frozen education, ending in itself, is a big contrast in such a sample like Turkey. For a small example; the chronic inflation in Turkey affects Turkish economy to its deepest roots, but its analysis has not been reflected into the curriculum.  Likewise for other problems that Turkey has faced for many years. Another important example is the distribution of income (which is a basic principle for economics as a discipline), this topic which is excluded by neo-classical economics or reduced to a market relation, has great importance being as a main determinant of Turkish economic structure. All non-market institutions, which economically are so important, are also left out of the curriculum.  Also an interdisciplinary perspective is much more important for us due to these reasons. In a country like ours, in which the state has a main role in the economy, excluding political science is inconvenient but the current situation is this.  


It is impossible to mention all the examples here but the main framework of the critique acn be understood. And now another important result of this kind of an education is the alienation of economists to their country’s conditions. Education of economics will still be far from being responsible in character, even if it pays attention to the low conditions mentioned above, because it will still lack the appropriate tools for helping a country like ours. 


A diversion here may help to understand this topic better. After the Second World War, with the application of Keynesian economics both in theory and practice, reconstruction of Europe with the Marshall plan, rise of welfare state concept, and success of socialist state economy, there occurred a development rhetoric in the underdeveloped and newly independent world. According to the rhetoric, underdeveloped countries should be separated from the developed world due to a series of specific economic feature and traditional economic analysis in the developed world should be changed if underdeveloped countries were being considered (Hirschman, 1981). As Başkaya says:

   "It is very limited to be successful in conventional economic theory and its practice in underdeveloped world, which were even unsuccessful in developed countries".       


Parallel to the Keynesian revolution, development economics appeared. Themes at the beginning were; industrialization, fast capital accumulation, activating idle human capital and state intervention and planning in order to realize all. However, these theories also produced by the Western scholars and accepted as absolute truths in a broader sense at the beginning. Problems were similar to those of the present time. Yet, there was a dynamic debate in many topics and assertions were deeply criticized by wide fields. Academicians and scholars from underdeveloped world were also integrated into the debate. This should be stressed because, other than the topic, the side, from where they were looking is also important. The successes and failures of development economics is not our subject here, today the traditional prescriptions should be interrogated again.


Incapabilities, imperceptions conceptual deficiencies, human definition and the role in the system (as a topic of another article) of mainstream economics must be discussed continuously. However the differences should also be stressed.


Finally, economists from the “low” world have an advantage of transforming economics into a dynamic, humanitarian discipline, because all the basic questions of economics exist deeply in our countries. If the theories, textbooks, curriculums continue to be received abroad without adjusting and if we cannot talk about a Shangay school or Buenos Ariesians in economic thought, this debate will continue forever like any other topic having the same raison d’être.




Özveren,  Eyüp (1999). A foray into Turkish debates concerning university and economics education: The
     Kadro journal and the Faculty of Economics (Istanbul University) as an instance of institutional innovation,
     in METU Studies in Development, METU Press, Ankara.
Şenses, Fikret (1996). Kalkınma İktisadı; Yükselişi ve Gerilemesi, İletişim, Ankara.
Başkaya, Fikret (1994). Kalkınma İktisadı, Yükselişi ve Düşüşü, İmge, Ankara.