RES Statement on Modes of Assessment in Economics Pedagogy

The Covid-19 pandemic ushered in an era of online teaching, learning and assessment practices in UK Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) that was unprecedented in its entire history. This was necessary to ensure smooth operation of these institutions in an immensely exacting environment. In fact, as a result, economics departments have tackled their over-reliance on timed, closed-book, invigilated exams and have introduced a larger variety of assessments, testing a wider variety of skills with generally more authentic assessment problems. However, transition to online assessment has brought its own challenges. In particular, the introduction of online assessment, not appropriately invigilated, has essentially meant a shift to open-book assessment, in some cases untimed. This has posed distinct risks for economics education that we cannot ignore as a learned society championing economics inquiry and learning.

Economics graduates are expected to demonstrate a broad range of skills and knowledge and be able to apply these to the critical analysis of diverse contexts. Often in their work they need to competently employ quantitative methods and complex data analysis. Teaching and learning economics programmes in the Higher Education Sector in the UK is tailored towards preparing professional economists and the appropriate design of assessments is an integral part of this preparation. Whereas some skills and knowledge may most appropriately be assessed through alternative forms of assessment, the timed, closed book, appropriately invigilated exam remains an essential method of assessment for certain core skills developed by economics graduates.

Comparable disciplines such as Mathematical Sciences also experienced similar challenges as noted by the London Mathematical Society. The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) documented that an undergraduate degree in economics on average enhances graduate employability and abets lifetime earnings. The Royal Economic Society (RES) is concerned that such admirable achievements of UK HEI graduates could be challenged going forward if the integrity of a good degree is compromised.

The Royal Economic Society (RES) supports innovation in economics teaching, learning and assessment and therefore does not wish to be prescriptive towards the management of these by university departments. Indeed, the RES sees great value in students being exposed to a variety of assessment methods as appropriate by the respective intended learning outcomes. However, a complete withdrawal of timed, closed-book, invigilated examinations by several universities remains a concern especially with regards to quantitative methods and core theory training, which is essential for economists. In technical subjects, students are expected to master essential numeracy; for these, timed and appropriately invigilated exams, remain a fair, robust and reliable tool to assess such skills.

The RES appeals to all UK universities to strongly support economics teaching and learning and allow unrestricted access to the full range of assessment instruments available, including timed and appropriately invigilated examinations to ensure all relevant learning outcomes can be assessed effectively and credibly.

Statement released by: Royal Economic Society

Endorsed by: Royal Economic Society Conference of Heads of University Departments of Economics (CHUDE) in the UK.