Unit name: International Trade (new 3rd year unit launched in 22/23), Summer Dissertation (MSc Economics, Finance, and Management)
How is sustainability included in these units? How did you decide what was appropriate?
At first glance, this unit might not obviously link to sustainability. Indeed, not all academic courses have a direct tie to sustainability, unlike specialized topics such as environmental economics. Yet, given the pressing importance of sustainable development in today’s discourse, I am driven to weave it into my trade teachings.
In the International Trade unit, I introduce sustainability during discussions on trade-related issues. I cover the relationship between trade and sustainability by sharing current research and fostering discussion influenced by media narratives. Central to the unit is a deep dive into the deep exploration of trade theories and their applications in real-world contexts. Despite the challenges and limited resources available, I want to provide students the chance to investigate the often-neglected connection between trade and sustainability. This approach not only imparts knowledge about trade but also underscores its profound interplay with sustainability, effectively blending the conventional international trade curriculum with today’s urgent global issues.
In the Summer Dissertation course, I’ve made a change in the supervisory topics I offer. Instead of focusing on the ‘relation between trade and productivity’ as I did before, I have transitioned to ‘trade and environment’ from 22/23. This is part of my effort to bring more sustainability topics into the curriculum. In these dissertation groups, students choose research topics that combine trade and environment. I support them by introducing relevant economic theories and academic papers that explain how trade and the environment are connected. Once students decide on their research direction, they gather data that focuses on environmental factors. We then come together in group meetings to discuss their chosen data or indices. This includes talking about how we can measure environmental quality, understanding different techniques used in various indices, and figuring out which method best fits each research setting. After these discussions, students use this data for their economic analyses, which becomes the foundation for their final dissertations.
What unusual or original pedagogy or assessment approaches does the unit(s) take?
In the International Trade unit, I’ve adopted a unique pedagogical approach by incorporating current events and real-world examples to elucidate and apply trade theories. Every week, I curate recent articles – sometimes as fresh as being published that very week – which resonate with the students’ interests. Topics range from the environmental sustainability of fast fashion brands like Shein and Zara to more peculiar events like the shortage of McDonald’s milkshakes in the UK. Given the immediacy of these topics, often there aren’t rigorous analyses or consensus-driven solutions available. However, this very uncertainty is turned into an advantage. I emphasize to students that there may not always be a ‘right’ answer. By doing so, I aim to remove the apprehension of arriving at the ‘correct’ conclusion, thereby fostering a classroom environment that values active participation, creative thinking, and open-ended analysis over rote learning.
For the dissertation module, I employ a more exploratory approach. Rather than guiding students through a linear narrative, I introduce them with a diverse range of academic resources to formulate their hypotheses regarding the interplay between trade and the environment. These materials deliberately showcase varied outcomes – some papers highlight a negative relationship, others a positive one, and still others reveal no significant correlation between the two. By exposing students to a variety of research outcomes, I emphasize that research is not solely about pinpointing the anticipated or ‘ideal’ results, but about navigating diverse possibilities and discerning the mechanisms driving those findings. They are thus less likely to feel discouraged if their conclusions deviate from a supposed ‘standard’. Rather than concentrating solely on the end result, I steer students towards understanding the underlying economic mechanisms. The aim is to foster critical reflection on these dynamics and spur dialogues on potential strategies to reshape the economic landscape towards sustainable development.
What sustainability-relevant ‘takeaways’ would you expect students to gain?
I anticipate that students will walk away with a profound realization that societal challenges are intrinsically linked to environmental issues. Particularly within the realm of economics and the environment, the complexities of achieving sustainable growth often arise because economic and environmental sustainability are tackled in isolation. My aspiration is for students to cultivate a habit of discerning these connections to sustainability when analyzing societal trends or participating in economic activities, such as consumption and investment. I found that students appreciated a teaching approach that connects academic theories to the pressing and tangible challenges of the real world.