Known as the Economics Tripos, the undergraduate course lasts three years. In any one of the three years there are around 160 undergraduates on the course in Cambridge. Most of them follow the full three-year course, though some may join from other Triposes such as Architecture, Land Economy, Law and Mathematics (or as affiliated students coming from other universities) in the second year.
In the first year (Tripos Part I) all five component-areas of the course are compulsory: microeconomic and macroeconomic principles, maths and statistics, social and political theory, and the economic history of modern Britain, each of which is examined in one paper. In the second year (Tripos Part IIA), students study microeconomics, macroeconomics and econometrics, as well as one of several options: mathematics for economists, development economics, labour economics, the history of economic growth, and papers offered by POLIS (Politics & International Studies) such as the Politics of South East Asia or Latin America.
In the third year (Tripos Part IIB) there are around fifteen options, including game theory and network economics, public economics, banking and finance, applied econometrics, industrial economics, the economics of developing countries, and economic history. Students select two of these, as well as compulsory papers in microeconomics and macroeconomics, and an individual dissertation on a subject of the student's choice.Dissertation topics covered recently by Pembroke's final year students range from studying determinants of the male-female wage gap in the UK, to analysing the presence of a possible bubble in the UK housing market, to pricing carbon emission schemes for fighting global warming, to the evolution of the China-US trade relationship and its implications for global macroeconomic growth, to exploring the causes of the 2008/09 global financial crisis and subsequent "anaemic recovery". See also the Economics page on the University website for further details about the course.
What is distinctive about the course?
In Cambridge the subject matter is treated not as settled doctrine but as a set of analytical methods. Undergraduates are encouraged on any issue to explore the counterpoise to conventional wisdom (be it 'Keynesian', 'monetarist' or 'new classical'); textbooks, as opposed to primary works or current articles, are recommended for reference rather than as course-work. Another distinctive element in the course is its emphasis on applied economics, i.e., getting undergraduates to become proficient at telling a clear story from statistical material. In addition, from the first year onwards, the quantitative component of the course benefits from familiarity with economic databases; in the second year the examination involves use of Stata software to prepare, as required work, an econometric take-home project; and in the third year many dissertations involve sophisticated econometric techniques.
What skills does the course reward?
It is very useful to be able to articulate an argument formally and to write and communicate accurately; but it is equally an advantage to be willing to challenge the underlying premises of an argument, and to not be shy about transferring methods or conclusions across quite different disciplines or problems. A feel for orders of magnitude and an interest in public policy and current international and financial affairs are also valuable. More generally, we believe that training students to confront competing economic theories with evidence is essential for becoming a successful professional economist.
How is teaching in economics organised?
The instruction is divided roughly 40-60 between University lectures and College 'supervisions'. Lectures are provided by the Economics Faculty, a 10-minutes walk from the College. They are generally large and formal, lasting 55 minutes each; undergraduates on average attend three lectures a day. The supervisions, organised in Colleges, are normally given by members of the Faculty and attended by undergraduates in groups of 2 or 3; they typically last one hourand are held twice a week, on average. (For Mathematics and Statistics there are often somewhat larger classes.) Supervisions call for work prepared in advance, such as a 2,000 word essay, which draws on a week's suggested reading and on lectures; at the supervision issues arising from that work get discussed with the supervisor. At the end of each term supervisors report on the student's work they have supervised.
Economics at Pembroke
Pembroke has a long and distinguished tradition in Economics. This dates back to John Maynard Keynes, who was the College's first Director of Studies in the subject. Spread over the three years of the Economics course there are around 15 to 18 undergraduates in residence at Pembroke, together with several research students working on MPhil or PhD degrees, as well as 1-year visiting students from a host of international backgrounds. Pembroke economists come from a wide range of backgrounds. In addition, there is a strong tradition of an international mix of both graduates and undergraduates in the subject. Both affiliated and mature students at the appropriate standard are admitted as undergraduates.
Pembroke has two members of the Faculty who are teaching fellows in the subject, with research specialisations covering the three main teaching areas of the Economics Tripos: Dr Demosthenes Tambakis (macroeconomics and international economics) and Dr Donald Robertson (statistics and econometrics). In addition, it maintains long-standing swaps with other Colleges to provide supervision for all of the Economics Faculty’s option papers. The College is very fortunate to be able to fully support all undergraduate students core teaching microeconomics, macroeconomics and econometrics in-house.
The College Library
The College Library contains a high proportion of the works required for the core of the course (around 1,200 volumes), together with five of the main academic quarterly journals and standard works of reference such as the New Palgrave Dictionary. There are also direct on-line links to the Faculty of Economics Marshall Library's resources, including e-books, e-journals and on-line article searches, borrowing and data download facilities. Some Pembroke professional economists: S.N. Afriat (Ottawa), P.K. Bardhan (UCLA), M. de Cecco (Rome), P.A. David (Stanford), M.R.D.W. Foot (Bank of England), S.A. Marglin (Harvard), S.J. Nickell (Nuffield College, Oxford), M.V. Posner (European Science Foundation), G.v.G. Stevens (Federal Reserve), Dr Roger W Ferguson, Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve, who has been made an Honorary Fellow.
What subjects do I need?
For those applying to Pembroke College it is essential to have achieved an A Level in Mathematics or equivalent, and an A Level in Further Mathematics or equivalent is also highly desirable, if it is offered by your school. University economics can involve sophisticated mathematical solutions, and it often requires a thorough understanding of mathematical and statistical notation. Otherwise, there is no preferred combination, although an analytical subject (such as Economics, History, Philosophy or Law), a science subject (such as Physics or Chemistry) and an expositional subject (such as a language, Art or Music) are all useful.
Overall, it is important to be interested in applying quantitative methods to social and economic policy issues. For a good degree result in Economics, learning and enjoying the formulation of clear and precise arguments is of great value; and it becomes an integral part of one's active involvement in the subject matter.
Applicants are required to sit a pre-interview admissions test in Economics. This will be part of an applicant's overall assessment, and will be common to all applicants regardless of their initial choice of College. Details about the written assessments can be found on the University of Cambridge website.
Is a prior qualification in economics necessary?
Although the answer is 'no', it is true that at the start there is a distinct advantage in knowing something of the special language of the subject (e.g. 'marginal cost') and to be able to recognise some elementary but important propositions (e.g. that under certain precise conditions, 'price should equal marginal cost'). Those without such knowledge of the subject are urged to read widely in the gap between secondary education and university. It is also useful to have done something connected with the subject if a 'gap year' is taken before university. In any case it is a good idea to be reading the financial press, especially the Financial Times, or the Economist, before coming to interview. Further enquiries about Economics at Pembroke College should be emailed to Dr Demosthenes Tambakis at Pembroke. See also the Faculty of Economics website for details of the courses available.
What does an Economics BA lead to?
Cambridge Economics graduates have for some years been at or near the top of the European league-table in terms of employment prospects. In a typical year, if they do not immediately continue into graduate or other academic work, they join central banks, the Government Economic Service (GES), management and strategic consultancies, investment or international banks, other financial institutions, accountancy, the legal profession or the civil service, the media and research institutes or public interest organisations such as Transport for London or the NHS. The course leads straightforwardly into graduate or business schools abroad. Over the past few years, Pembroke students have been admitted to a range of prestigious Masters and PhD programmes in LSE, UCL, Toulouse (IDEI), MIT and Princeton.
A Day in The Life of ...
One of our recent Economics graduates, Helena, has written a blog about being an Economics student and you can find her blog here.