Queensland Economics Teachers Association

   Queensland Economics Teachers' Association Inc.

RBA survey explores student perceptions of Economics

06 Aug 2020 5:09 AM | QETA ADMIN (Administrator)

QETA members may be interested in the following message from the Reserve Bank of Australia

Dear Educator

Subject selection is looming in many schools. But what could this mean for Economics?

In June’s Bulletin publication, the RBA has released the results of a new student survey, as part of a wider investigation into the decline in size and diversity of the Economics student body since the early 1990s. A total of 51 schools completed the survey between July and September 2019, producing a sample of over 4,800 students from Years 10, 11 and 12.

The sample involved students who studied, and who did not study, Economics – it confirmed the lack of diversity in the subject, with Economics students significantly more likely to be male, from a higher socio-economic background, attend school in a major city, attend an all-boys school or choose subjects based on ATAR scaling.

The survey results provide insights into some of the ways that schools could promote Economics to their students, encouraging a more diverse pool of students to study the subject.

Below are some of the key findings from the survey.

  • The top three reasons students choose subjects include:
    • interest
    • perceived competence, and
    • whether the subject would be relevant for future study or work.
  • Students typically believe that the discipline of economics:
    • can be used for social good
    • has a wide range of career opportunities
    • is NOT ‘more of a career for men’.
  • In terms of the school subject of Economics, students hold perceptions that:
    • they could do well at Economics
    • it scales well for the ATAR
    • it provides skills for everyday life, and isn’t ‘all about money’.
  • However, some negative perceptions of Economics persisted, with students not perceiving it as interesting and having little desire to know more about it. Economics is perceived as having a heavier workload than most other HSC subjects. Students indicated they prefer to study Business Studies because they think it will be more useful for their future and more interesting.
  • While students perceive that an economics degree leads to a wide range of career options, students are less likely to have a clear idea of the specific careers available if they were to choose to study Economics in Year 12.
  • Negative perceptions tended to be more pronounced for females, and for students in schools with a low socio-economic background (compared with high socio-economic) and regional areas (compared with metro areas). In particular, a ‘confidence gap’ exists to the disadvantage of students from low socio-economic background and regional locations, who are less likely to feel they ‘could do well in Economics’. These students were more likely to see Economics as ‘a risk to study because they don’t know what it is about’.
  • Students highlighted that ‘identifying problems’ and ‘globalisation’ were the economics topics they found most interesting; however, these differed by sex. In particular, female students were more likely to cite ‘identifying problems’, whereas male students were more likely to cite the ‘share market’.

To encourage students to choose Economics, there is scope to play to its strengths and address its image problem, as well as to fill information gaps about the subject. It may be beneficial to focus on how Economics meets the criteria of the things that matter most to students – namely, being interesting, providing skills for everyday life, and providing future work and study paths. Additionally, tapping into the specific aspects of economics that attract boys and girls could help to influence their decisions.

Recent developments may also work to raise the profile of economics amongst students, and spark demand for the subject: 

  • Students will develop awareness of economics through the mandatory economics elements in the new Commerce curriculum (NSW).
  • The effect of COVID-19 on the economy has regularly featured in the media (and probably in household conversations). Many students have seen, first-hand, the impact of economics on people’s lives and so their interest in the subject may have increased.
The Reserve Bank is committed to supporting educators and students. It provides free teacher professional development and a wide range of resources, talks and events, thus supporting schools to be able to offer Economics to their students. It is currently building on its library of online resources to support teachers and students across Australia, including those who are learning remotely.   

Best wishes


Christina You | Senior Public Education Officer | Information Department  

RESERVE BANK OF AUSTRALIA | 65 Martin Place, Sydney NSW 2000
p: +61 2 9551 9731 | e: youc@rba.gov.au |
w: www.rba.gov.au

© 2020 Queensland Economics Teachers Association Inc.

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