Thursday, April 19, 2007

Masters in Economics (Part 1)

This post was inspired by a comment left by Elanor Tan in regards to whether one should pursue a Masters in Economics locally in Malaysia or go abroad. I thought it would be a good learning experience for me to look at the local offerings in regards to Masters in Economics courses and compare them to similar programs in the UK and the US, something which I'm a little more familiar with.

Assuming that one did his or her undergraduate degree in economics (like the person who left the comment in Elanor's blog) in a local university in Malaysia, the first question that his person should ask is - why exactly do I want to pursue a Masters in Economics? This question is important because it dictates where one should go to pursue one's Masters, whether it is a local program or an overseas program.

For example, if this person is interested in researching a particular aspect of the Malaysian economy (but doesn't want to spend 3 to 5 years on a PhD), it would make more sense for him or her to enroll in a Masters program in a local university. Most, it not all, Masters programs in Economics in UK and US universities are very theoretical and quantitative. Even at the undergraduate level in most UK and US universities, Economics students are required to take numerous quantitative courses -in mathematics (calculus, matrices etc...) as well as statistics (regression, distribution, etc...). I'm guessing that the undergraduate requirements in most Economics programs in Malaysian universities are not as rigorous. A brief glance at the UM faculty of economics and administration website shows that it is possible to take quantitative courses at the undergraduate level but it is unclear if these quantitative courses are required courses. So if one doesn't like math or stats, I would highly discourage you to go to the UK or the US to do a Masters in Economics.

While it is possible to pursue a rigorous quantitative route at the local level, both at the undergraduate and graduate level, there is also the option of obtaining a Masters by dissertation (instead of coursework) at the local level. I'm not familiar with such an option being possible in most US or UK universities, unless it is not a pure Masters in Economics e.g. Masters in Public Administration or a Masters in International Development. So, if you're interested in investigating, for example, the impact of Malaysia's industrialization policy on economic development, I think you would be better served by doing a Masters in a local university, under a knowledgable supervisor, with easy access to local resources.

What if this person wants to do a Masters as the first step towards a PhD in Economics? Some of what I've said above still applies. If you're not quantitatively inclined and if you want to do something which is Malaysia specific, you're better off enrolling in a local program. The downside, however, of enrolling is a local program is that your PhD will be less 'marketable' because, if you've not done sufficient course and if your PhD research design in one that is limited in scope, you'll find that you'll be able to teach only in Malaysian universities. If this is fine with you, then again, by all means, enroll in a local program.

If this person really likes Economics as a subject (and not just one particular aspect of the Malaysian economy) and is not averse to quantitative methods (math and stats), then I'd advise this person to try to enroll in a US or UK university. Most US universities, however, are less inclined to enroll a person seeking only to do a Masters degree program in Economics preferring PhD students instead. Thus, there are not many top-ranked US schools which offer this choice. Some, however, do offer a one or two year Masters in related fields such as a Masters in International Studies (Yale). Nuffied College in Oxford offers a 2 year quantitatively driven Masters program in Economics and both Cambridge and LSE offers a one-year Masters program in Economics which covers the basic theoretical ground in Economics (Micro, Macro, Stats) for further graduate work.

So it this person is intersted in Economics but only wants to do it at the Masters level, then apply to a UK university. If this person wants to do a Masters as a step towards a PhD degree, then apply to a US university.

Finally, what is this person just wants to get a Masters in a field which would advance his or her career? Then, I would suggest that you consider taking an MBA instead of a Masters in Economics. An MBA is a much more widely recognized degree and it covers a much broader area than a Masters in Economics. Of course, the next question would be - a local MBA or an overseas one? This is perhaps a subject for another post, but my general recommendation is that if you don't have too many restrictions (family, financial), apply to go to an MBA school overseas, preferably in the US (although LBS in London and INSEAD in Fontainebleu, France are also good options in Europe).

To recap, enroll in a local Masters program in Economics if:

(1) You are not quantitatively driven
(2) You want to research a particular aspect of the Malaysian economy
(3) You have other personal considerations - time, financial, family

enroll in a Masters program in Economics in the UK if:

(1) You don't mind quantitative methods
(2) You like Economics but you're not sure if you want to do a PhD in Economics
(3) You want to finish this Masters in one year
(4) You don't have other personal restrictions

enroll in a Phd program in Economics in the US if:

(1) You like quantitative methods
(2) You are quite sure you want to pursue a PhD in Economics
(3) Your area of interest in economics is not necessarily restricted just to Malaysia.

enroll in a MBA program if:

(1) You are seeking a Masters degree in general for career advancement and are not particular interested in Economics but just want to get an advanced degree.

These are generalizations and does not apply to all situations or to all people. Take it with a pinch of salt. As to which local university one should try to enroll in, that is the subject of another post.

P.S. For those who might not know, I did my BSc in Economics at the LSE and my MPhil in Economics in Cambridge. I'm currently doing my PhD in political science at Duke University. One of these days, I'll share in more detail my positive and negative experiences associated with my education in the UK as well as the US.


Anonymous said...

Yep.. that was some good postGrad counselling, Kian Ming.

Somehow, my parents have your thinking when it comes to job prospects...just because I am working in the investment bank, CF dept..they are encouraging me to do U.S. MBA ( preferably after 3-5 years of working experience first ) My first choice is Master Econs. actually..

Thanks for your article. I'll show it to my parents for more discussion:)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the advice. I have had thoughts of pursuing a Masters or Phd in Economics. I am currently double majoring in Economics and Philosophy in the US and can back you up on studying economics in the US. My professors said the same thing about it being statistical and mathematically driven, especially at graduate level. I would say though, that at least in my university, as an undergraduate, one could still get away with minimal mathematical requirements if one opted for classes like the history of economic thought and the like.

Anonymous said...

Before the UM faculty of Economics was strong with subjects taught in economics and business admin and accounting too...

After it was split into two faculties to create a new business and accounting faculty, the faculty of economic was weakened with less mathematics and statistics....

Who to blame?? Politics? Splitting means more power! more heads! more deans! More promotions and more professors.....hehe

Anonymous said...

im not sure about overseas university. but doing masters in um sucks! dont waste ur money. you will be threated like school children..with such condition, u might get the knowladge..but u will never learn to think!

Anonymous said...

but um fees are very affordable and i think one cannot expect the institution to help one think..the thinking and learning process is the student's responsibility, what more at masters level the student is considered an adult student

Anonymous said...

Anon (11.01) above is absolutely right!

There is one clear difference in the work ethics of our local seems that they are always at canteen most of the time. In Britain, the staff are only seen at canteens only at fixed tea and lunch breaks.

It is a pity the university admin here are perpetually closing both their eyes in these ' lack of discipline 'problems.

If you dont believe me, just visit any university canteen for a few days...
Dont know if they come to university to work or to eat only

Anonymous said...

Wat to learn from all these professor kangkongs?

Anonymous said...

So what are these "economics specialists" telling us or rather spinning our inflation rates into the lowest level as claimed. I don't hear any analysis disclaiming this although "everything" goes up and the latest footwear and cooking oil. Where are all the economic experts?

Anonymous said...

Agreed the Masters in Economics in Britain is quantitative and even more so with the candidate having to be strong in calculus. It is not as easy as you think.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much, Kian Ming!

I am actually the one who left the comment in Elanor's post. Really appreciate your comments and opinion on this.


Anonymous said...

Dear All,

This is AW here again. Actually, I am more or less a generalist having an accounting professional qualification and a law degree - so I have some background in economics [though not detailed].

I am interested in economics primarily for knowledge and not for career advancement - so I guess doing it in a local university would be best. Whilst reading and learning on my own is good, I prefer a structured learning path. My main interest is in heterodox economics though.

However, my main question is if I am doing it locally, what would be the best option?

Would UM be good? Or as Elanor suggested - to do it in University of Nottingham?

I hope that this is covered in Part 2 of your article.

Thanks once again and I do hope I am not being too presumptuous in asking for your opinion.

Any comments by anyone else with experience locally would be most appreciated also.


Anonymous said...

There again, are the foreign universities in Malaysia such as Monash, Nottingham are IDENTICAL in the quality of teaching they offer here compared to their main campuses in Australia or UK?

Or are they merely 'selling' their degrees here by giving a cheaper and lower quality options? The only IDENTICAL qualities between the branch campus in Malaysia and the original campus is their degrees awarded in terms of identical paper quality and official signatories of the degrees.

Just dont be duped by names of the universities....

__mars said...

While I was doing economics at Michigan, the profs there always stress on qualitative aspects instead quantitative ones. The rationale is, having numbers without the comprehension what it means is meaningless. So, when you asserts that local schools stress more on quantitative aspects (at undergrad level), I was kinda surprise to hear how US schools is more rigorous in term of quantitative than local.

Anyway, what's your opinion about Australian economics programs?

Anonymous said...

Regarding Australian economics program, my 2cents are for; Melb Uni, ANU, RMIT School of Economics, Finance and Marketing and perhaps, Monash.

__mars said...

pardon my grammar, I rarely proofread my comments. But what about U of Sydney?

Anonymous said...

I think economics has to be weighed equally in both qualitative and quantitative. Hypothesis needs to be backed up with credible numbers.

brotherlone said...

what kind of econometrics programme do locals universities use ?

CD said...

Economics is a subject that is heading more towards quantitative (more precise - mathematics). UM Master of Economics is actually not too bad, given the content and the usage of English. However, as an undergraduate from UM Econs Faculty, I have to acknowledge some lecturers or even professors are not up to the mark. However, there are still some dedicated ones.

I am currently pursuing Master of Economics in National UNiversity of Singapore. The syllabus is highly mathematical. Although the ranking of the program and university is good, I have reservation in the faculty members. They are only interested in their own research and most of them are lousy teachers. Similar comments were expressed by coursemates who did their undergraduates in US or UK.

I understand US is more mathematical based while UK is more skewed towards qualitative and quantitative balance.

Anonymous said...

To Shon,

If you are referring to econometrics software taught in local unis, it is Eviews. However, the staffs are knowledgeable in SAS, SHAZAM, MATLAB, STATA, GAUSS, RATS and etc...depending on their backgrounds.

Anonymous said...

Economics has become highly quantitative and in fact works in the paradigm of physics. This is especially the case in US and UK and in fact economic papers in the journals are all highly mathematical. However, in recent years, economics is moving into the paradigm of biology where economic analysis now uses evolutionary framework to discuss the dynamics of the market and agents' decision.

Anonymous said...

Kian Ming,

I'm in lse itself doing Bsc Economics and am wondering what your advise about second year courses would be.

Did you do Micro 1/mcro 2, and did you do principles/introduction to econometrics? Which is more useful both in the future, at working life, and while pursuing masters?

alice said...

thank u kian ming for ur info, i just get my sholarship to further my study in master of economics in malaysia. do u know which uni is better, umiversity of malaya or university kebangsaan malaysia? thank u so much for ur opinion.

Anonymous said...

thank you...the advice that i'm looking for in assisting me on the right path of education life. Thank you again. I'm going UES. Hehe

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

To CD,

I am interested in pursuing Master of Economics in National University of Singapore, but I found that there is a course call Master of Social Sciences in Economics(Research),is this the one you are pursuing right now?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the article but i have a few comments.

I just finished my Phd in economics and here's my comment:

although MBA is more widely recognized, it does not covers broader area than Economics. In fact, MBA is very specify in the analysis of firms sector while Economics (Microeconomics) covers a very broad analysis on firms competition and competitiveness using calculus.

Secondly, Master in Economics in local Us use almost the same amount of quantitative analysis in Economics. Eg, USM and UM offer time series analysis and 3 econometrics papers. So it's a matter of choice. However, quantitative method will only help student o understand the theory better and application in the real world.

Some foreign universities offer the option of doing Thesis based study for MEC with a few core and majoring subjects while most don't. So yes, you are right that if student want to finish their MEC by Thesis would better off in local U.