ST. STEPHEN’S CENTRE FOR ECONOMIC STUDIES
The Department of Economics in St. Stephen’s College attracts very talented and highly motivated students. Consistently over the years, many of them have shown both the capabilities and the willingness to range well beyond the confines of the University of Delhi BA Honours in Economics course work. There is, of course, mutual interplay between what the BA Honours course equips them with and the kind of problems beyond the course that they are willing and able to tackle. The Honours course itself has developed over time, and modules such as Econometrics or Game Theory or Economics of Health and Education or Environmental Economics have now been introduced. This has given our students some up-to-date basic training, and consequently a greater confidence in formulating and tackling new problems and issues, the first steps in undertaking real research.
The primary aim of the proposed Centre for Economics Studies is to tap this great potential and to encourage a very bright group of students to be more “research-oriented”, more daring and independent in formulating problems and research questions well outside the formal curricular structure, and more rigorous and careful in formulating hypothesis and testing them.
The full range of activities the Centre might engage in will undoubtedly develop over time and with greater experience. A few immediate focal points are listed here:
- The institution of the Goutham Krishna Research Fellowships in 2014-15 has already resulted this year in three innovative research projects undertaken by different groups of students working as teams (faculty members in the Dept of Economics acted as mentors and guides to the groups). These Fellowships have been made possible by a generous endowment from the family of Goutham Krishna, a former student of the College who died tragically young while working for a higher degree at the University of Bristol. The Fellowship amounts can be supplemented, which will make possible more ambitious research efforts, the empirical side of which is often constrained by shortage of funds; and the number of Fellowships could also be increased so as to involve larger numbers of students in similar projects.
- With funding available, we will be able to invite visiting faculty. A model for this has already been established. Prof Pankaj Tandon of Boston University (an alumnus of the College) was a visitor to the Department of Economics for the full academic year 2011-12 and taught a full course on Microeconomics. Students benefited enormously from this exposure. In his case, the College provided accommodation and board, but the visit was made possible only because he received funding from the Fulbright US Scholar Programme: the College certainly did not have the resources itself. If the proposed Centre can stand on its feet financially, such visits can be facilitated enormously. What we visualise is inviting visitors – and the College has in particular many distinguished alumni to call upon – for varying durations, depending on their commitments and willingness. These could range from short duration visits of a week or fortnight, with intensive interaction with faculty and students, to semester long residencies. For programmes like this to be possible it is imperative that adequate funding be available.
- Regular talks, seminars, short duration workshops for students (which could be of longer duration if over the vacation periods) and possibly an annual conference. Again, the most pressing restriction hampering a more active programme is funding.
- In the current semester a non-curricular, add-on course of lectures on Game Theory has been arranged, open also to students from other Departments. The initiative came from our students themselves, who asked for such a course to be organised. This suggests that similar courses on Behavioural Economics, or research methodology (e.g. on survey questionnaire design or how to design and conduct randomised controlled trials), or Industrial Organisation – areas that do not currently figure in the University syllabus – could be run successfully in subsequent years under the aegis of the Centre. In many cases we would have to invite outside faculty actively engaged in research in such areas to conduct the courses.
- Facilitating research activities by both faculty and students. The limitations on such activities can at present sometimes be absurdly basic: we do not have the funds to purchase statistical software packages! Other initiatives – all of which require substantial funds – include travel grants for consultation of research material in other locations, the conduct of primary surveys of any substantial scope, purchasing data sets (e.g. the CMIE or Prowess databases).
- Students can be encouraged to enlarge the scope of the Economics journal they currently bring out, and there could a nice synergy between encouraging research activity on their part and publication efforts of this kind.
The Centre has been created by the dynamism and vision of the Principal. If this initiative can be taken forward in serious ways, it will hugely enrich the academic life of St. Stephen’s College.