Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

  • 27 January 2023

Demand outstrips supply for a hugely popular economics lecture series

Image: DEAL (Doughnut Economics Action Lab)

Originally booked to take place in the back room of a pub, and now being staged in the largest Oxford University venue, overwhelming demand for a lecture series has left many on a waiting list.

The highly sought-after course is Doughnut Economics Live, an eight-week lecture series delivered by ecological economist Kate Raworth, Senior Associate at Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute, where she teaches on the Masters in Environmental Change and Management.

The lecture series is intentionally designed to provide students with a world view of economics that is rooted in contemporary social and ecological realities, something Kate and many of the students on the course believe is missing from the economics curriculum.

The course has been offered to any student who has come to the city of Oxford to study economics in some form and was immediately oversubscribed with all 317 places fully booked. Students from the University of Oxford and Oxford Brookes University fortunate to get places are studying a range of subjects, from PPE to Economics PhDs, as well as business, law, public policy and public health.

Over the weeks, the course follows the chapters of Kate's book, Doughnut Economics: seven ways to think like a 21st century economist, published in 2017. The book considers a new economic goal, drawn in the shape of a doughnut, in which basic human needs and the boundaries of our planet are balanced to ensure human and planetary wellbeing.

What is new is that the students will also be looking at how this theory is landing in practice. Kate said: "The core concepts of Doughnut Economics are now being put into practice by national, regional and city governments, by businesses, consultants, teachers, architects, designers, NGOs and community organisations worldwide. This is an exciting time to discuss what impact this new approach is having."

When asked what they hope to gain from the course, students responded with; 'To have my traditional understanding of economics challenged', 'Right balance between financials, economics and climate harm', 'Inspiration, knowledge and to find love for economics again', 'A more comprehensive view of economics in a changing world', and 'Arguments against the current profit, growth-driven models'.

Other responses included; 'How do you take the emphasis away from money and wealth when these are the main means for making change and allocating resources where needed?', 'How to combine ethics with economics', 'A framework for combining social, economic, and environmental considerations and goals', 'Climate and biodiversity compatible economies', 'How to use economics to make the world a better place' and 'Hope that the world is not doomed'.

Kate's resolve to offer this course stems from decades of learning and teaching economics: "I was a student of Politics, Philosophy and Economics at Oxford University 30 years ago (1990-93) and was frustrated - as many students in Oxford and worldwide still are today - by the narrow curriculum on offer. Years later, I studied many schools of economic thought that we were never taught and I was struck by how valuable their insights were for understanding and addressing 21st century realities. So I wrote Doughnut Economics: seven ways to think like a 21st century economist to be the book that I wish I could have read as a student.

"I have been teaching the ideas of Doughnut Economics to Masters students at the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University School of Geography over the past 10 years, and these students often say "Why aren't all economics students taught these ideas?" - so I decided to see what happens if we make that possible."

As Brian Adams might have said, 'Economics is all around us'. And that's the very reason the course has proven so popular, attracting students from many different subject areas. Kate added: "It's important to offer a course like this because these students are the changemakers of the 21st century. They are the policy makers, the politicians, the lawyers, the business leaders, the journalists who will guide the world to 2050 and beyond. The mindset they are taught today will shape the future that they create."

One of the intentions for the course is to create an in-person experience where everyone is present in one room. Kate said: "I am taking the opportunity to experiment with new teaching content and approaches, in order to develop new educational materials and lesson plans for sharing online with teachers, students and the wider public worldwide, through Doughnut Economics Action Lab. So what we cover on this course will ultimately be available online for everyone. But rather than be an additional course students must take on top of their formal studies, I believe it is time for these concepts to be incorporated into the mainstream curriculum of economics."

The limitations of economics curricula worldwide is something that Kate hopes to help change. She believes students should have the opportunity to consider ecological, feminist, complexity, institutional and behavioural economics. She said: "This course is not simply a critique of the current curriculum. It's propositional of a new approach. There are of course many brilliant academics who recognise the value of these other schools of thought but are too often constrained by the narrow restrictions of the current curriculum - we believe it's time for a new starting point, one that is designed around addressing 21st century realities, from climate and ecological breakdown to extremes of inequality between global North and South."

Now couldn't be a better time for the forward momentum of the Doughnut Economics approach and its part in addressing the climate crisis. Kate was encouraged by the words of the new Vice-Chancellor Professor Irene Tracey at her Admission Ceremony on 10 January. Prof Tracey said: "We still need to be pandemic-ready; we need innovative solutions to the energy crisis; and we need to get serious about climate change - and that means solutions, not guilt. Regarding climate, I want Oxford to lead in addressing what is now the most pressing issue of our times. This is an interdisciplinary problem, and we are very well placed to take a bold and innovative lead."

Doughnut Economics Live runs from Monday 16 January to Monday 6 March in the Nelson Mandela Lecture Theatre at Saïd Business School. It's being run in partnership with Doughnut Economics Action Lab (DEAL), the student movement Rethinking Economics Oxford and the Oxford University student-led Climate Oxford Business Network.

Image: DEAL (Doughnut Economics Action Lab)
Image: DEAL (Doughnut Economics Action Lab)



More news


Keep up to date with our news via our monthly newsletter.