In 2001, scientific administrators at the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) introduced a group of four disciplines, namely Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (in short STEM) to foster ingenuity and creativity and lead to new ideas and innovations.
The idea sprung after the launch of Sputnik, amid tensions that the US would be out-innovated by the Soviet Union. With time, STEM has evolved into an object of worship in public education.
In this era of globalisation, however, analytical and predictive skills arising from other disciplines are equally important to maintain the global position. In light of this, the question of whether Economics should be recognised as a STEM discipline has become a contentious point.
An appropriate response to the question presupposes a thorough understanding of what Economics is. Broadly speaking, Economics is the systematic study of production, conservation, and allocation of resources in conditions of scarcity, together with the organisational framework related to these processes.
Although the Father of Economics, Adam Smith, did not put any mathematics in his magnum opus - 'The Wealth of Nations', much of economic theory is currently presented in terms of complex and revelatory mathematical relationships asserted to clarify assumptions and implications. Economics is already among the most rewarding majors in the job market. This begs the question of how Economics relates to the study of STEM.
To begin with, economists use models as the primary tool to derive insights about the economic phenomenon in question. They then use a variety of mathematical techniques and statistical procedures to clarify the verbal explanation.
But economists are not merely passive recipients of statistical information. They have the skill to predict future economic conditions or determine the probability of an occurrence. The methods require in-depth knowledge about the use of data, as well as a computer and statistical software for analysis. Therefore, many students take at least a year of calculus, statistics, and forecasting courses called econometrics in pursuit of a bachelor's degree in economics.
The realm of Economics does not stop here. The subject teaches its students to apply their newly acquired capabilities to everyday life. The fundamental understanding of scarcity and incentives makes for critical citizens and entrepreneurs, and it informs them of the need for technological innovation. It promotes teamwork, collaboration, and above all, a sense of civic responsibility; skills that will help to shape a qualified 21st century society.
Coming back to the discussion about STEM majors, one of its most important implications is that it allows international students to work in the US for an additional 24 months during what is known as an optional practical training period or OPT after their regular OTP of 12 months expire.
Graduates use the OPT period to explore the job market until they find an employer willing to sponsor them for an H-1B visa. As with Economics, it enables students to combine multidisciplinary skills that make them excellent financial analysts or simply excellent company employees.
But employers are seldom willing to employ and train an employee who has to leave after one year. If Economics is recognised as a STEM major, it will allow the foreign students studying in the US to contribute more positively to the areas of Finance and Entrepreneurship.
In line with this, most universities are now considering changing the federal classification code of their economics majors from one for general economics (45.0601) to econometrics and quantitative economics (45.0603) in order to give their students this option.
Princeton, MIT, Brown, NYU, Yale, and Columbia are among the colleges that have already reclassified their programmes in economics. I would like to end with the hope that concerned authorities look into this matter and consider reclassifying economics as a STEM major.
Md Nafis Khan is currently pursuing his MSS in Economics at Bangladesh University of Professionals. He can be reached at [email protected].
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The BU.S.iness Standard.