The Importance of Being Pertinent

In each of Canada’s major universities, economics departments are tasked with the duty of providing their respective students with a comprehensive and applicable education in the field of economics. As part of this mission, it is necessary that universities augment required courses that provide a strong foundation in the fundamentals of economics with supplementary courses providing students with applied learning on topics of current and future importance. Although most universities excel at this task, there are some notable gaps.

From academic enrichment to the pursuit of future financial wealth, there are many different reasons as to why students choose to incur the cost (in terms of money and time) of earning a university education; one of the most popular motivating factors is to gain knowledge that will serve as a marketable skill within the job market after graduation. The relative value of certain skills in comparison to other skills in the marketplace often depends on societal and commercial needs; for example, the value of computer coding skills have increased in recent years whereas the value of specific skills relating to a field such as telephone switchboard operation have been effectively rendered useless.

According to the late Nobel Laureate Richard Smalley, humanity’s top 10 problems for the next 50 years will be encountered in the fields of:

1.     Energy

2.     Water

3.     Food

4.     Environment

5.     Poverty

6.     Terrorism and War

7.     Disease

8.     Education

9.     Democracy

10.  Population

Assuming that Professor Smalley was accurate in his prognostication of the largest issues of the next half-century and that the most pressing issues will determine the skills of greatest importance (or value), there will be a greater demand in the labour market for individuals possessing skills and knowledge relating to these ten fields. Therefore, as economics students, we look to extract the greatest value from our educational opportunities by taking courses that prepare us for the challenges, opportunities, and careers of the future.

The following analysis examined the economics course offerings (course topics and syllabi) at five different Canadian universities coming from five different Canadian provinces-- Dalhousie University, McGill University, the University of Toronto, the University of Alberta, and the University of British Columbia.  Though each of these universities provide numerous levels of instruction in the fundamentals of both microeconomic and macroeconomic theory, there are divergences in the course offerings for economics courses in specialized fields.

Each university was given one of three ratings for each topic. In the table, green signals a “complete” match between a topic and a specific course at the university (either the topic of interest is the sole subject of the course or the topic is a major point of focus), yellow signals a “partial” match (the topic of interest is partially covered by the course, such as being the focus of a small section of the course), red indicates that the topic is “not substantially covered” by any course offered by the economics department of the university.

According to the investigation, the University of Toronto is tied with the University of Alberta for having the most “complete” matches between future global issues of importance (top 10 problems) and currently offered economics courses. McGill University, the University of Alberta, and the University of British Columbia offer economics courses that cover all of the predicted issues of importance at least in part. However, Dalhousie and the University of Toronto do not have courses that substantially address Terrorism and War as a course topic (though it may be mentioned within a course in passing).

Overall, universities across Canada provide their economics students with excellent and diverse sets of course offerings though not all universities are equal in the pertinence of their offerings when preparing students for the challenges of the future.


John Butler

Works Cited

Picture titled, "Toronto: University College, University of Toronto", taken by The City of Toronto on November 5, 2008, obtained through Creative Commons (