An Undergraduate Course in Economics in India

DismalScientist wanted to get a feel of the undergrad programme in India. So here is my view. It comes under the Arts section so we are awarded a Bachelors in Arts(BA) rather than BSc.

There are broadly two kinds of approach here in India. The northern states of India stress the importance of math while in the south, math papers are less.

I studied in a college in the south which is ranked as one of the top 10 colleges for Arts in the country.(I am of the opinion that the ranking was flawed to a large extent)

In the south, we are made to learn Microeconomics by H L Ahuja, which is dismal vis-a-vis Varian. We had more of Indian authors. But since, our college was autonomous and had a restructured curriculum, we had a paper in Econometrics, mathematical economics ans one in Computer applications in economics(SPSS was taught). We were given a bird’s eyeview of economics but we never went in depth. Moreover, the students were not very keen in learning economics too. There was never any books we referred to in my college.

As per the information what i have gathered, in the north, they refer to books by Varian, Gould & lazear, Pindyck & rubinfeld for micro; dronbusch & fischer for macro; a c chiang and sydsaeter for mathematical eco and finally freunds mathematical statistics. These are books referred to by the University of Delhi.

41 thoughts on “An Undergraduate Course in Economics in India”

  1. Alex,

    great layout ! looks very nice,goes well with the stuff you write.
    One suggestion would be not to put in many plugins like in yr blogspot know frugal look goes with economics :)

  2. Dear BVN,
    I will make sure i do not make it like my blogspot.

    This is the case with most southern universities. Relatively the northern universities offer more in terms of academics.

  3. It’s interesting that the northern schools emphasize mathematics more than the schools in the south. Is there a particular reason for this sort of disparity?

    On a side note, I recognized one of the texts you have under “My Economics Reference Books,” Gujarati’s “Basic Econometrics.” I used it in my undergraduate econometrics class. I, along with most of my class-mates, thought it was a real treat to use.

  4. Dismalscientist,
    The reason for the disparity, i believe is due to the apathy shown toward math, in the south. Most students tend to discard math as soon as they enter their 11th standard. Students are yet to know about the realm of mathematics. A passion for any subject is lacking. Research and teaching forms the last rung in the priority ladder. Everyone is in the search of getting a job as soon as possible. So a majority dont opt for further studies in even science subjects, let alone the social sciences.

    Yes, i have referred to Gujarati many a times too and it is a note worthy book for econometrics.

  5. Well ironically majority of mathematics gurus like ramanujam came from south !! BTW I didnt knew that such a disparity existed..

  6. Ketan,
    I never said that the south has not produced mathematicians. This kind of math-phobia is visible from school itself. Recently, steps have been undertaken to reduce the students’ fear by the introduction of math labs. the teaching is to blame. Students are neither told why they are learnig the subject nor its uses. they are groomed just to score well for the board exams. Yhis is the case in the state of Kerala, where the literacy rate is relatively high in comparison with the other states in India.

  7. i’m doing my grad fm patna univ. we have good teachers but an ancient syllabus that has no trace of mathematics. in college, the teaching dsn’t comprise of “economics” in the true sense of the word. 99% of my class mates r goin for an mba or banking or something else bt not eco. so no one seems to mind! univ. syllabus tells us to refer to books by the likes of ahuja et al. fortunately,some pple are really interseted in eco and that gave me an opprtunity to learn what a vast world economics actually is. and reading the comments here assures me to some extent that am not alone in this mess.

  8. Chetana,

    It is common to see ancient syllabi, uninterested professors, absence of math in majority of the colleges in India. [For BA]

    And like you mentioned, most students do not take up eco so as to pursue it. For most of the students it is a stepping stone for MBA, Banking, IAS etc.

    Economics is a vast world like any other discipline.

    One prof told me that ‘teaching’ has to stop by at least 10th standard; from then ‘learning’ has to begin. We need to learn by ourselves. This article tries to differentiate the two.

  9. HIII

  10. even i detest the lack of seriousness my classmates had for the subject.even the ones the ones doing pg are doing it because of lack of quantitative skills in mba!

  11. Nidhi,

    In fact, economics offers different avenues for those that are excellent in quantitative techniques as well as those who have the intuition for economics.

    More importantly, math is a tool which is sued is most of the applied sciences. In MBA math will get over in college, if one does not specialise in finance. But for an economist, it is required tool.

  12. Chetana,

    We were introduced to SPSS in our paper on Computer Applications in Economics.

    I have gone through Gujarati for Econometrics. I do not know about Schaums in Econometrics. Gujarati is an excellent read for econometrics.

  13. I just want to know about the universities which offer undergraduate and graduate degrees through distance mode. Can u please guide me through.

  14. Hi,my name is rohan…..Its true that the standard of Economics in the south is abysmally dismal when compared with DU or CU at the undergrad level.I myself am a 3rd year economics student at Loyola,chennai.But I personally believe it is the passion towards economics that counts if one wants to pursue higher studies in economics.One of my seniors from Loyola (2004-2007 batch) has just got thru DSE,IGIDR and JNU.I myself have taken courses from the maths department at Loyola and have just been provisionally offered a place at University of Warwick,UK for Msc economics. I feel students from the south who are passionate about economics need not be worried about the deficiencies in their syllabus but need to bridge the gap with their own effort and a positive attitude.

  15. Economics education – a cause for worry (THE HINDU JULY 24,2007)

    Most educational institutions in the South have missed out on the purpose of teaching economics. For long, in south India, economics has been dubbed a dry subject, the second preference of students opting for the commerce and business streams and even branded as a non-utility course by those in politics and governance.

    It started gaining in prominence only after Dr. Manmohan Singh resurrected it as a relevant science through his earlier successful stint as Finance Minister of India and subsequently as the most happening incumbent Prime Minister of the country. However in Delhi, Kolkata and Mumbai, economics did enjoy the pride of place as the first choice of the youth interested in banking, management, business and the civil services. In Delhi, thanks to its proximity to the corridors of power and because of a teaching faculty with considerable exposure to western education and pedagogy, the subject was taught with emphasis on both theory and its application, based on reading lists made up of standard textbooks and journal articles. It also incorporated quantitative inputs as part of the course curriculum.

    Less priority

    In the south however, the subject was taught with emphasis only on theory and with little or no application to the contemporary world. This was also one of the reasons for it being relegated to a lower position in the priority list of students for collegiate education. In the past, economics teaching in south India was clubbed with the study of history and politics, patterned on the colonial model of higher education. Unfortunately it continues to be so even today in some universities and colleges in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala. In the decades of the 1950s to 1970s, this was acceptable, as the first preference of youths joining the humanities and social sciences was the civil services. With India emerging as a modern industrial economy in the later decades, the appeal of the civil services had waned for the elite, since better and more rewarding careers were being opened up in different fields of banking and industry. With the phenomenal growth of the services sector in recent years and particularly the emergence of the financial services sector as a major employment generator, economics education has gained increasing acceptance among the urban youth.

    Outdated curriculum

    Unfortunately the educational planners and academics in the south have not been able to cash in on this renewed interest in the subject among the urban youth. As a result, the teaching of economics by and large in the southern colleges and universities suffers from the following defects: a) there is too much emphasis on learning of outdated theory and its verbatim recall during the examinations, b) crucial supportive subjects such as mathematics and statistics are either not taught or taught at an elementary level and c) non-application of the theory that is taught through numerical examples and problems requiring logic and reasoning. The reason for this sorry state of affairs can be traced to the evolution of the subject itself. In European universities where the subject of economics first evolved, economics was taught along with logic and philosophy. Subsequently it metamorphosed into what was popularly known as political economy. The earliest writings by classical economists such as Adam Smith and David Ricardo were literary masterpieces, which were admired as much for their economics content as for their literary beauty. In fact, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations reads almost like a Shakespearean novel. Subsequently, Alf red Marshall’s marginalist revolution and much later, the Keynesian General Theory of Employment, Incomes and Prices, introduced concepts that were amenable for mathematical treatment and interpretation.


    Even then, subsequent economists such as Hicks, Kaldor and Joan Robinson confined the mathematics associated with their writings to the appendix in their publications, while an economist such as Sraffa who resurrected classical macroeconomics through his essay, Production of Commodities by means of Commodities, gratefully acknowledged the mathematical support provided to his work by another professor of mathematics. It was only when people trained in engineering, such as Kalecki a nd Feldman, took to the study of economics in a serious way, joined by other hardcore mathematicians like Paul Samuelson, and his successors from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, did the subject get more and more technical and quantitative in content. In the past three decades, there has been such a phenomenal growth in the subject in terms of intellectual rigor and mathematical sophistication that economics has moved away from the realm of social sciences and more towards engineering, physics and the pure sciences. Even in India, we have had our own statisticians/ mathematicians turned economists such as the likes of P.C. Mahalonobis and the rest, who had contributed to its emergence as a precise science.

    Mathematics and statistics, which were at the periphery of economics in the early part of the 20th century, made a quiet entry into the heart of economics in the later part of the 20th century, to be well entrenched by the early years of the 21st century. To understand the mathematics associated with the earlier writings of the scholars of the subject, subsequent generations of students were forced to learn and master quantitative subjects, and having acquired such a mastery, used it in their own writings subsequently. Today it is very difficult to be a successful student of economics without adequate knowledge of linear algebra, analytical geometry and differential calculus on the one hand and sufficient knowledge of the measures of central tendency, measures of dispersion, distribution theory and regression analysis on the other.

    Western scenario

    In Western universities, at the undergraduate level, the emphasis is on teaching the various theories of economics in such a way that the student develops an independent ability of applying them to a given situation. The classroom teaching as such is less while more importance is given to tutorials and self-study by the student.

    At the postgraduate level, the emphasis is by and large on self-study by the student of a given list of original articles by the subject experts. This does make sense since most postgraduate students go on to complete a doctoral degree as well. Indian students who are used to textbook study may find this a bit puzzling. The logic behind this exercise is that textbooks merely summarise the writings of the original contributors and are likely to miss out the essence of their contribution.

    On the other hand, a study of the original contributions may enable a student to fully comprehend what the original thinkers were saying and later go on to make an original contribution himself.

    Dilemma in south

    Coming to the dilemma of the educational institutions in the south, it is sad to note that most of them have missed out on the purpose of teaching the subject. The problem can be traced to the school education here, where, at the higher secondary level, economics is taught in combination with commerce, with or without mathematics. It is also quite common to see students with commerce and computer science backgrounds and not having studied mathematics at the Plus-Two level apply for B.A. Economics at the collegiate level. Such students start with a weak foundation and find it difficult to comprehend the subject, let alone master it, as they climb up the ladder.

    If mathematics is considered crucial for a successful career in business and finance, then it must be even more so for a subject that deals with national and global economic events and phenomena.

    Mastery of quantitative subjects will enable the student to indulge in successful model building later in life, which may help the nation in finding solutions to some of the pressing economic problems of the day.

    Who knows, a P.C. Mahalanobis or another Amartya Sen may be just round the corner, if we improve the quality of economics education in the colleges and universities in south India and also compulsorily offer economics in combination with mathematics at the school level.

    Incidentally, Dr. T.N. Srinivasan, a reputed U.S.-based economist of Indian origin hailing from Tamil Nadu, who taught economics at Harvard and Yale Universities, studied pure mathematics at the undergraduate level in Chennai before moving on to the U.S. for his postgraduation.


    The author is Professor, Department of Economics, Loyola College, Chennai.

    1. Hi,
      My name is Ramnik and am trying to figure out the best career path for my son. He wants to do economics at a under graduate level and i was thinking of looking at the south universities esp Loyola college , Chennai and Christ college Bangalore. However reading this article i have my doubts . Can you please help and recommend.
      Thanking You in advance for your help.
      Ramnik Chopra
      098100 61818

      1. For economics at undergraduate level, BA(Hons)/BSc(Hons)Economics course of Delhi University & Calcutta University respectively are far better than southern universities.
        A first class with distinction in BA(hons) Economics from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi(affiliated to Delhi University) can pave the way for a coveted London School of Economics degree (like MSc Economics).Generally, this is not the case with students from southern universities(exceptions exist).

        Choose from this :

        1. St Stephen’s College, Delhi
        2. Sri Ram College of Commerce(SRCC) ,Delhi
        3. Presidency College, Kolkata.
        4. St. Xavier’s College, Kolkata.

  16. Dear Alex M Thomas,
    Can you tell me what is the prospect of getting admission in DSE,IGIDR, JNU, ISI, Chennai School of Economics if somebody pursue B.A. (Hons) from Loyola College, Chennai(of course for a good student)?
    In Feb-March, 2009, I am appearing for 12th Exam under Maharashtra Board from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai. Curriculam-wise, which one will be better? Undergraduate Economics course under Mumbai University or Loyola College, Chennai?

    1. Kanishka,

      Enrolling into a well-ranked institution for an undergraduate course does not automatically entail admission into A rank universities. Thus, even if you study in Loyola, Chennai; you may not necessarily be admitted to JNU/DSE and so on. Because, the admission is carried out on the basis of entrance tests and in some cases, interviews as well.

      Also, any good undergraduate college in Mumbai is at par with Loyola, Chennai; rankings often belie the merit of a college!! Also, based on my personal experience, I would not advise anyone to do any economics program in Loyola College, Chennai.

  17. i would give you the same advice as i have done my bachelors too from loyola.Economics programme in loyola college wont help you in any ways if you wanna pursue a career in economics. Its better to opt for colleges like St Stephens,DSE. Finally,another advice to all aspirants that never go with rankings(esp India Today)cos its flawed big time.

  18. Hi Alex,
    I am studying in SYBA in Mumbai.In TYBA we have six Eco. papers.Two of them are Maths&Stats and Econometrics.Thing is I am worried about Maths. I was in the science stream in junior college but shifted to Arts after the 12th board exams as I wasn’t sure I could do the Engg. Maths.

    I chose Eco. as I am genuinely interested in Macroeconomics and Finance.I want to give the entrance exams in dse,igidr and jnu.
    I am planning on going through the 12th Maths syllabus in the 4 months that I have before my TY starts.Can you please tell me which Maths topics I should through for TY Maths&Stats and Econometrics and for the entrance exams? Could you also refer any books for the subjects?

    Please reply soon as I am really nervous.

  19. Thank you so much Mr. Alex, for taking out time to answer my queiry. Two more question please: 1)What about B.Sc. Economics from Symbiosis College of Economics, Pune?
    2)In St. Xavier’s,Mumbai,in 1st year-combination is Maths, Stats & Eco; in 2nd year- one subject is to be dropped, say, Maths; in 3rd year-either eco-stat or only eco (6 papers). Will this curriculum be helpful to crack entrance exams of DSE,IGIDR, JNU, ISI, Chennai School of Economics?

    1. Hi Kanishka,

      You mentioned that, in Mumbai there’s an option for Eco- Math – Stat??? but when I went through MU’s prospectus there’s no math and stat in any year. Is it for Distance Learning?

      Also Mr. Alex,

      I want to study Eco – Math – Stat, are there any institutes or universities in India that provide this combo on long distance basis. I want to study eco with math & stat, because I work in Insurance sector (really want analytical skills). I cannot attend any college because I stay abroad and work. Also, I want to study more especially quantitative eco, but first I need to graduate in eco. Please help me with any info you might have, I’ll be really grateful.

      Thanks and regards

  20. am in a dilemm as to go to mcc or st stephens for ba m frm kerala and am pretty uncomfortable wth goin so far away from quiet interestd in extr curriculas like dancin and singin..and i fear tht i’l draw bak frm al these in a totally diffrnt place like delhi….bt evn thn,,hmm,,….i am pretty uncmfortable with places like bangalore…alth am pretty much forward myself…is delhi smewat like bangalore…i totally am not into colleges like christ in st stephens sumthn of d sort?????

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