A senior Reserve Bank of Australia executive has warned that a decline in high school economics, as students opt for business studies instead, has implications for the future of public debate and good policy development.
Enrolments in year 12 economics has dropped by almost 70 per cent over the past 25 years, according to the head of the Reserve Bank’s information department, Jacqui Dwyer.
Ms Dwyer, in a speech to an education conference, said while economics plays a vital role in informing a range of choices, including political ones, the future of critical discourse about public policy is dim and needs the analytical skills acquired in the study of economics.
“It is widely opined that the quality of public discourse in Australia – and elsewhere – has fallen and would benefit from greater economic literacy and engagement with economics ideas,” Ms Dwyer said.
While most of the subject’s decline occurred in the early 1990s, there has been a continued downward drift in the number of enrolments in economics, with female participation slipping disproportionately.
Females accounted for around one-half of economics students 25 years ago, but recent showed they made up only around one-third of students in 2016.
Ms Dwyer said the introduction of new subjects in 1991 resulted in a sharp rise in enrolments in business studies, which is widely perceived as a more employable subject than economics.
“The displacement was immediate and pronounced,” Ms Dwyer said in an address at the Business Educations Australasia annual council meeting on Monday.
“Our liaison with educators confirms that the single largest factor has been the introduction of business studies,” she said.
“In contrast, student demand for economics is relatively low, and many schools are considering the feasibility of even offering the subject at all.”
Only around 30 per cent of government high schools in NSW and 55 per cent of non-government schools taught economics in 2016, compared to 90 per cent in the early…