Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

What they teach you and what you learn ...

Via Jamie, an Oxford PPEist writes:

Let’s be clear: Oxbridge accepts, roughly, the same proportion of state school applicants as apply. The problem therefore is that not enough bright state school kids are applying, not that they are being discriminated against once the UCAS forms are in

Per the University of Oxford[1] website, we discover that "roughly" covers a multitude of sins. Taking the "UK domiciled applications" (note that the non-UK acceptances which make up 15% of the total are going to be socially a lot more similar to UK independent than UK state school applicants).

"Maintained sector" accounted for 6485 applications and 1456 acceptances - an acceptance rate of 22.5%.

"Independent" accounted for 4173 applications and 1244 acceptances, an acceptance rate of 29.8%

How important is this? Well, eyeballing it suggests that it's the difference between just over 1 in 5 and just under 1 in 3, which makes a practical difference. And of course the smaller number is applied to a bigger applicant base. The overall acceptance rate ex "others" was (1456+1244)/(6485+4173)=25.3%. If the acceptance rates were actually the same, then there would have been 187 more state and fewer private school acceptances. Or alternatively, 15% of independent school acceptances are the result of differential acceptance rates. The figures for Cambridge are a bit less user friendly to deal with, but broadly comparable - state schools 23.3% acceptance versus independent schools 32.5%; I calculated 225 excess independent school pupils at Cambridge in 2009.

To be honest, I don't think this can actually be fairly considered to be with in the bounds of the phrase "broadly the same", particularly if you're then going to base whole other steps of your argument on having completely ruled out admissions bias as a possibility. This is before you get into the obvious point that applications are going to be endogenous with respect to acceptance rates.

Is this what they teach you on PPE courses? Yep it is. Specifically a) you don't learn statistics, econometrics or many quantitative skills at all unless you specifically search them out (this is why the Bank of England, among others, didn't count PPE graduates as "economists"). And b) the way the course is set up absolutely teaches you to make broad brush statements, preferably in a loud and confident tone of voice, about things that you haven't checked up on but have sort of picked up are reasonably there or thereabouts, in the sense that you might be badly wrong but are probably not so wrong that it's gonna be awfully embarrassing if you're picked up.

When I say "the course teaches you" to do these things, I don't mean that PPE has a paper on applied bullshitting, or that you're instructed to do it, of course. I just mean that the workload involved means that there's a constant temptation to cut corners, and the assessment method (involving weekly tutorials with people who aren't always experts on the specific area involved and who are typically on friendly terms with you) is practically designed to not pick up this sort of corner-cutting. What you learn in the lessons is always a very small subset of what you learn on the course.

This is true of MBA-school too. Lots of the things for which MBAs are widely reviled are things that they learnt at business school, but not in the classrooms. I never did the MBA track, of course but I watched them and as far as I could see, the two year MBA was almost entirely an exercise in workload management. Pushing off responsibility onto other people and dropping them in it wasn't on the syllabus, but it was more or less an essential survival tactic. And lessons learned, of course, are carried on into future life.

[1] If anyone knows why not "Oxford University", they are politely requested by mgmnt to keep it to themselves.
18 comments this item posted by the management 5/25/2010 01:52:00 AM

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