The Financial Express

Studying economics: Science-arts confusion

| Updated: May 01, 2021 10:05:12

Picture used for representational purpose – Collected Picture used for representational purpose – Collected

Bangladesh offers different streams of education such as science, commerce and arts at the secondary and higher secondary level. And the social order of precedence puts science first, commerce second and arts lastly.  Since economics falls under the arts group, people consider it beneath the dignity for a student, especially from the science group, to pursue it in higher education. Such ingrained idiosyncrasy makes many students confused about this.

Rafiul Ahmed, a sixth semester student of economics at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST,) said, “My family was very supportive when I decided to do my undergrad in economics, though some people in my surroundings didn't quite like it. 

“I had to hear things like ‘what's the point of having a science background if one chooses economics in higher education?’ They talk as if a student from the science group should be either a doctor or an engineer only.”

Mr Ahmed has, meanwhile, started working with one of South-Asia's leading research institutes, South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM), and initiated Econ Insider, a research society at SUST.

“I am going to complete my undergrad within one year, and till now, it has been an incredible journey for me with economics. When I look at myself three years back at the moment when I decided to choose economics, I feel proud of making the right decision,” he said.

Deputy General Secretary at SUST Career Club (SUSTCC) Tahmid Ishraque Apurbo said he was lucky to have chosen economics for higher education, though he wanted to be a doctor.

Echoing Tahmid, Md Hamidul Bari Riyadh, an executive at SUST Model United Nation Association (SUSTMUNA), said, “My first choice was engineering, but I realised economics is perfect for me. It is not a get-at-able subject to major in, rather it needs a lot of hard work to gain better results.”

Is economics a science or arts subject?

Economics is a systematic study of comprehension and facts where all theories are based on experiments, universally accepted, and methodically accumulated, categorised, and analysed. It demonstrates the correlations between cause and effect. For instance, quantity demanded of a product is a negative function of its own-price, meaning that the change in the product’s price is the cause where the change in demand is the effect. From this perspective, it can be considered a subject of science group.

On the other hand, economics explores the response of human behaviour in the allocation of scarce resources and to choose the optimum outcome of alternatives. In this perspective, it can be called an arts group subject, since it solves the economic problems of practical life applying theoretical knowledge to achieve the feasible objective. It is, hence, a brilliant combination of both science and art.

Economics changes how we look at life

Sakib Mahmud, now a freelance researcher and data analyst at Fiverr pointed out a very important aspect of economics as a discipline – knowing the society. “It deals with real-life scenarios, and makes me aware of how society as a whole works and how people behave,” he remarked.

Like Sakib, Fatiha Nusrat has found a new meaning of life as economics has changed her view towards things. Being the founding member and assistant documentary director at Murarichand College Model United Nations Club (MCMUNC,) she can now see opportunities in things by opportunity-cost calculation.

“It helped me realise that our resources are limited, and it is impossible to get everything we wish to have using that. So, we must be rational and decide what is more important to us. Whenever I am asked for a meaningless hangout, I cannot but think that the cost of hanging out is the time spent and the other stuff I could do during that time. Then I think about what I value most and do that.”

Career opportunity

The scope of this subject is so wide that it has created applied roots in many fields such as household, health, behaviour, education, sports, religion, law, politics, national defence, social institutions, war, science, environment, and even crime. Thus, it truly encompasses almost every aspect of everyday life.

“My family wants me to do something big in life. So, I chose this subject over the pure subjects of science for its tremendous career opportunities so that I can materialise that dream,” says Nabila Matin Chowdhury, a senior executive of research and analytics at a youth-led economics discussion and analytics platform Econ Insider.

Being a multipurpose subject, economics is applicable both in personal and professional life.  salaryexplorer.com has cited the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics as projecting that employment of economists would grow 14 per cent from 2019 to 2029, which is much faster than the average growth for other occupations. In Bangladesh, being an economist is one of the highest paying jobs worth BDT 42,600 from entry level ($502.46).

Also, attractive jobs in the financial and business sector include market research analyst, financial analyst, business analyst, accountant, data analyst, research assistant, pricing analyst, actuary, compensation and benefits manager, policy analyst, insurance underwriter, statistician, budget analyst, personal finance advisor, and many more are open for a student of economics.

New era, new opportunities

Assistant Professor of economics at SUST Dr Munshi Naser Ibne Afzal often talks about opportunities for economics students. In one of his lectures titled ‘Best Job Opportunity for Economics Graduates in 2021’ he said, “The era of artificial intelligence (AI) is starting from 2021. Economics graduates are the complete package as they know statistics, mathematics, and business theory or framework. So, what else does it need to learn data science or machine learning?”

He emphasised the importance of these practical knowledge to connect with real-life.  “I think about 60-70 per cent jobs are already ready for economics graduates. The remaining 30-40 per cent would be prepared with real-life datasets. So, I advise them (students of economics) to learn data science, machine learning, and the tools and techniques of the present age to become efficient data scientists or data analysts.”

According to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) ‘Future of Jobs Report 2020,’ it is estimated that 85 million jobs will be displaced, while 97 million AI-based new jobs will emerge across countries by 2025.

Dr Abdullah A Dewan is a professor of economics at Eastern Michigan University, USA, formerly a physicist and a nuclear engineer at Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission (BAEC.) He has shared his insight regarding the study of economics mentioning economics fulfilled his understanding of life.

“The study of economics has made me a more enlightened citizen than what I would have been with my studies of physics and nuclear engineering” he said.

After all, be it science or arts, the group doesn’t matter. The most important thing is to see whether we enjoy whatever subject we study and help us widen the horizon of knowledge.

Suraiya Begum Ruhi is currently a second-year student of economics at Shahjalal University of Science and Technology (SUST). Email: [email protected]

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