The dismal science of economics has experienced a surge in popularity since the UK recession, with a 50 per cent increase in candidates studying the subject at A-level since the financial crisis first hit in 2007.
Proof of this trend emerged on Thursday as A-level results revealed a 7.4 per cent rise in students taking economics A-level since last year – the biggest growth in any single subject. Overall, 26,139 students took this A-level subject across the UK.
Neil Bentley, deputy director-general of the CBI employers’ group, said teenagers’ interest in this subject reflected a wider curiosity about finance which extended to the highest levels of the realm.
“As the Queen asked on her visit to the London School of Economics, why did no one see the financial crisis coming?” he said. “More than ever, there’s an onus on analysis and forward thinking, working out why these things are happening.”
Mr Bentley also pointed to the benefits of more people leaving school who were financially and economically literate. “The more divergence we have in economic thinking, the better that is for economic forecasting,” he said.
Emily Hedley, a pupil at Rochdale Sixth Form College who counts economics among her string of A grades, is now off to study medicine at Lancaster University.
“For as long as I can remember, the news has always been about the economic climate so it was something I wanted to know more about,” she said.
Ms Hedley believes that this grounding will stand her in good stead. They had covered the NHS budget in class, and how money was spent on healthcare.
Another A-level student quoted on an exam board chatroom explained the benefits of learning to speak the language of finance. “You learn terms that you can use in sentences and your friends (and sometimes teachers) just blank out at your apparent intelligence,” the student wrote.
Anthony Seldon, master of Wellington College independent school, said 40 per cent of his current sixth form wanted to study economics at university, either on its own or combined with another subject. “Pupils know this is an entry to many different careers . . . and parents like it because it’s intellectual and practical and hugely profound,” he said.
For John Beath, secretary-general of the Royal Economic Society, the new interest was a welcome development.
“School students are aware that the country faces economic problems and they want to understand what they might be,” he said.
However, he denied that the value of economics had been damaged by the financial crisis. “When you’re faced with a crisis,” he said, “[economics can help you] to think about how to get out of it.”
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