Undergraduated Studies

Economics as a Major in an Undergraduate Degree. (Econ Major) 

What is this major about?

A major in economics involves three years of study, made up of two compulsory first-year modules, two compulsory second-year modules and a third year programme based on a single core module in Quantitative Economics, plus three elective modules drawn from a ''buffet table'' of options dealing with various applied areas of study. The first year sets the scene, by introducing students to the basics of microeconomics (with a focus on the economic behaviour of individual consumers, producers and markets), and macroeconomics, dealing with economy-wide performance. The second year of study takes these two micro and macro strands very much further, and essentially sets the conceptual groundwork for a series of third-year excursions into areas of applied economics, in areas a diverse as development economics, transport, the environment, the public sector, industrial organization and the like. All modules are taught in formal lecture sessions, but some of these sessions will be used as problem-solving ''workshops''. Lecture groups may be quite large in first and second year (possibly up to 150 students), but are smaller, more intimate and more interactive at the third-year level. In addition, the core third-year module in Quantitative Economics makes use of hands-on computer-modelling sessions in LAN rooms, as well as conventional lectures. Examinations at the first and second levels make use of a combination of multiple choice and written (essay- or short essay-type questions), while third-years modules make far greater use of discursive written examinations and independent research assignments.

What will I learn?

In your first year of studying economics, the first semester module in Economics 101 will introduce you to the basic economic question of choices that have to be made by all communities in the face of limited resources and technology, and it will develop this theme by examining the economic behaviour of producers and consumers in markets, in the form of basic supply-demand interaction. A major theme is that of just what is meant by efficient patterns of allocation of scarce resources, efficient patterns of production in different kind of industry structures, and efficient patterns of distribution. In the second semester, Economics 102 examines economy-wide economic behaviour. It looks at ways of measuring total economic activity in a community, it highlights factors that determine this level of total output or income, which may at time be associated with sustained unemployment, or with inflation or even with both. A major purpose of the module is to understand important instruments of economic policy, such as fiscal policy (taxation and government spending) or monetary policy (controlling interest rates and the money supply) used in mixed economies to influence economic performance. The module also introduces students to international trade and globalisation.

In the second year of study, Economics 201 in the first semester takes the macroeconomic story very much further, by trying to build more robust and more realistic models of aggregate economic behaviour. A very large focus of this module is to build a conceptual toolkit that allows students to make sense of economic policy instruments and policy changes, such as the implications of decisions to change interest rates, the impact of tax changes in the national budget, and the constraints that international economic influences might have on the economy. In the second semester, Economics 202 develops the micro theme substantially, by looking at consumer behaviour and the behaviour of firms and industries in much more detail and in a framework that is closer to that of the real industrial world. Instruments of industrial policy are addressed in the particular context of the South African economy, and students are introduced to welfare economics and to economic behaviour in situations of risk and uncertainty.

In the third year, your horizons open out significantly, notably in the realm of applied economics and economic policy. For the most part, the third-year programme does not push the boundaries of theory forward very much, but rather uses the conceptual base developed in the first two years to understand applications. All students wishing to complete an economics major must enrol for the module in Quantitative Economics. This is an introduction to econometrics, and introduces students to the use of mathematical and (particularly) statistical techniques to build predictive models. This module is vital if you wish to proceed further with the study of economics, as much of ''what economists do'' in the present time centres around econometric model-building. To complete a major, you will need to enrol for a further three elective modules, from an array of options offered by the School of Economics & Finance. These include Labour Economics, International Trade, Maritime Transport, Public Economics, Environmental Economics, Industrial Organization, the Economics of Africa, Macroeconomic Policy in South Africa, Growth Economics and the History of Economic Thought. A more limited set of electives may be offered in any particular year on the Howard College campus, but students interested in particular specialisations are encouraged to contact the School of Economics & Finance, which has its base on the Westville campus.

In 2009, the Quantitative core module and a module in Industrial Organization will be offered at Howard College in the first semester, and South African macroeconomic policy and Public Economics will be offered in the second semester.

What careers etc?

A major in economics provides an opening to many career paths in the broad planning and development field, in banking and finance, in the public sector, in teaching and in general management. Economics graduates are particularly finding employment in a host of very interesting inter-disciplinary areas involved with consulting and project work in the planning and development field, where combinations of economics and other mainstream social sciences such as sociology, geography and environmental science are an excellent background. An economics major also opens up opportunities for postgraduate study at the honours and masters level (and beyond) in economics itself, but also in development studies and regional planning. If you are contemplating postgraduate study, a combination of economics with politics and/or philosophy is particularly powerful.

Additional info?

Although most of the undergraduate economics modules are not taught in a highly mathematical way, they do make quite extensive use of graphical techniques in presenting economic relationships. In addition, the ''core'' third-year module in Quantitative Economics does make quite extensive use of statistical techniques. A good background in mathematics (a higher-grade D or better in matric) is therefore quite an important attribute if you are contemplating pursuing economics in your Arts degree.

When and where?

All economics modules are shown in the university timetable. The first lectures in the respective modules will be in the first periods indicated in the university timetable, in the first week of lectures in February 2007. The School of Economics has an administrative office on the 9th floor of the Shepstone Building. Module materials can be collected from this site. The main site of the School is on the Westville campus.

Admission Requirements

As per the requirements of your faculty. Economics is a pre-requisite for the B. Comm. degree up to second year level and depending on the relevant faculty rules 

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