Dr Birendra Rai becomes director of all Clayton undergraduate programs
Senior lecturer Dr Birendra Rai is the new director of all Clayton undergraduate programs for the Department of Economics.
For the past two years, Dr Rai has been the department director for the new PPE program, as well as providing overall coordination on mathematics for the Education Committee.
"I am slowly easing into my new role and will take over fully at the end of this semester. I am getting a lot of support and advice from Dr Jaai Parasnis and Dr Vinod Mishra," he says.
With the Bachelor of Commerce/Bachelor of Economics directorship open, and with an Economics major in the Bachelor of Arts looking very likely, it makes sense to consolidate directorships for these four distinct but related degree programs.
Dr Rai has contributed to the teaching and design of the PPE program and consistently received good teaching evaluations.
"The Bachelor of Politics, Philosophy and Economics has been well received and we have 90 students this second year that it is running. What makes it special are the four core units which are co-designed and co-taught by staff in the three involved disciplines," he says.
"For instance, the first year core unit is organized around the theme of migration, and students are introduced to the core questions relating to migration that are of interest to each discipline. We are also strengthening the linkage to the Arts faculty in other ways which will hopefully encourage more Arts students to take up economics units."
He has taken the lead on both cross-unit coordination and teaching for the Department's mathematics needs.
"We plan to collect information about what kind of maths is needed for each unit in the department and what my colleagues wish they could utilise. Then we shall develop self-study materials so that students can find math resources tailored for particular units," he says.
What are you most excited about in this new demanding role?
"I don't have a strong personal preference, but I am excited about the new initiative with the Bachelor of Economics where we really hope to develop and differentiate this Bachelor from the Bachelor of Commerce. I think it will become a very attractive course for students in the near future," says Dr Rai.
He takes over from Senior lecturer Dr Jaai Parasnis as she has assumed the directorship of Learning and Teaching. The Department would like to thank Dr Parasnis for her excellent work with the BCom/BEc portfolio and for her ongoing work as Learning and Teaching Director.
How Monash Malaysia is working to empower women
Monash University Malaysia was established in 1998 and is Monash University's third largest campus, with 8400 students from approximately 78 different countries. Around 1000 students are studying business.
Associate Professor Grace Lee Hooi Yean has been the Head of Department of Economics since 2016.
"The department research focus is on developmental economics, environmental economics and increasingly on experimental and behavioural economics," says Dr Lee.
Dr Lee works collaborates closely with Professor Erte Xiao (Economics) and Professor Asad Islam, Director of the Centre for Development Economics and Sustainability (CDES). Dr Lee is currently supervising five PhD students, two of which are in co-supervision with Professor Xiao and Professor Islam.
Currently there are eight staff in the department, with plans to recruit three positions at the lecturer, senior lecturer and associate professor level.
Dr Lee is also planning a joint conference with CDES, Monash Malaysia and the World Bank Malaysia, once the travel situation around COVID-19 improves.
Prior to the pandemic a number of students from Malaysia would travel to the Australian campus and Australian business students would visit Monash Malaysia for a semester of unique study experience.
"Some very popular units for the Australian students are 'Asia in the world economy' and 'Business competition and regulation' and we are developing a new unit called 'Economy of the Southeast Asian Economies'," Dr Lee says.
"It is really a goal for us to have more Australian students come to us in the future."
But the impact of COVID-19 has also given rise to new opportunities.
"When everything is online both Malaysian and Australian students can be in the same tutorials and engage through joint group work online. That's very exciting."
A recent major milestone in the department is the signing of a partnership with AIM, the largest microfinance firm in the country, to promote women's equality and empowerment.
"We are really hoping for long term collaboration and we are training female entrepreneurs in e-commerce so they can move their business online," she says.
"A lot of them are in the food and beverage business so we are also encouraging and teaching them to improve their menus and develop new products as the market changes.
"Randomised controlled trials will be carried out to study the effectiveness of the interventions."
This project is part of a larger program of empowering rural women through entrepreneurship in Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.
An important resource of the faculty is the School of Business Entrepreneurship and innovation hub which will participate in the project along with the department of Economics and the department of banking and finance at Monash Australia.
Delving deeper: Honours students 2021
Every year an outstanding group of students take part in the Department of Economics Honours program, an extra year of study that gives them the opportunity to challenge their ideas and delve deeper into the latest research.
Congratulations to all Department of Economics' Honour students of 2020:
Paul Boykett, Simone Pandit, Quynh Nga Do, Molly Paterson, Xiaolei Wang, Simon Ricketts, Marvin Pardillo, Christian Creed, Gregory Constantinou, Nicholas Marinucci, Muhammad Heru Wirasto, Craig Mortimer, Mustafa Kaka, Kerry Guan, Yuyun Feng, Harrison Power and Rachel Rearick.
Ms Paterson's thesis is titled 'Gender and Disadvantage in the Evolution of Test Score Gaps'. She looked at how gender and early socioeconomic status interrelate to affect the gaps between students in terms of their NAPLAN numeracy scores.
"I was really interested in looking at the interrelationship between different factors in early childhood and how they serve to advantage/disadvantage certain students," she says.
"I found that poor girls are the most disadvantaged when it comes to numeracy scores throughout schooling and that the early life circumstances of children are much more significant predictors of their later achievement than their circumstances at the time of sitting the tests."
Ms Paterson's greatest learning from the thesis was the experience of working with such a large dataset (the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children), and the data analysis skills she gained which is something she really wanted to develop.
She has just started a graduate consultant role at KPMG in its Policy, Programs and Evaluations team.
"I'm excited to get started in the team as we work with primarily government clients which is an exciting way to apply what I've learned about public policy in practice.
"I'd love to also one day complete a Masters in Public Policy or even a PhD in Economics. But I'm excited to spend some time working before I start making those decisions," Ms Paterson says.
What did she like best about doing your Honours degree in Economics at Monash?
"Completing my Honours degree at Monash during Covid really showed how much the lecturers care about us doing well," Ms Pateron says.
"They all tried their hardest to make sure we still received the best teaching we could, given they had to pivot to online learning at the drop of a hat.
"I also really enjoyed working with my academic supervisors throughout the thesis process, they've become great mentors for me, and we are currently working to hopefully publish a paper together based on my thesis."
Ms Pandit's thesis focuses on the degree of public support for the ethical principle of saving more lives, the guiding principle behind many of the public health strategies used during the Covid-19 pandemic.
A hypothetical choice experiment with respondents in the US was conducted using an application of scarce ventilator allocation. The greatest share of responses was consistent with saving more lives, as opposed to other principles.
Additionally, public health officials generally have to consider alternative ethical perspectives when developing public health policies, like ventilator allocation guidelines. Providing balanced information about these competing ethical considerations was found to increase support for saving more lives.
"I chose this topic because I was really interested in the discussions around the ethical considerations that COVID-19 was bringing to the forefront, from allocating life-saving medical resources to the implications of lockdowns," Ms Pandit says.
Through the process of working on her Honours thesis, she learned how to conduct academic research, which she really valued as her prior exposure to the research process had been limited. Ms Pandit hopes to commence a PhD program in economics soon.
Completing her Honours at Monash, Ms Pandit really valued input from her supervisors, Associate Professor Liang Choon Wang and Senior Lecturer Birendra Rai, as well as lecturers from coursework subjects and other Honours students.
"I was introduced to so many new and interesting ideas and concepts during my Honours degree and I'm really glad I was able to have that experience," she says.
Motivated by the unprecedented increases in global temperatures, Mr Pardillo combined his interest in climate change and development economics to research the economic impact of weather shock events in developing countries.
Conducting his thesis under the supervision of Professor Pushkar Maitra, he analysed the economic impact of rainfall and temperature shock events in the Philippines.
"The Philippines is a developing economy and are inherently susceptible to the consequences of climatic variation due to their geographical location and dependence on agricultural-related output," he says.
"Understanding the adverse economic effects of weather shock events is crucial. Our study found that excesses and shortages in monthly rainfall were associated with a decrease in the level of economic activity.
"We also found that lower temperatures were associated with an increase in the level of economic activity whereas higher temperatures are associated with a decrease in economic activity," he says.
This year he is working as a graduate economist within KPMG's economics department where he helps clients leverage economic insight, forecasting and modelling to make better business and public policy decisions.
"The best part of doing my Honours degree in Economics at Monash is the abundance of support from our professors, supervisors, and peers.
"Throughout the year, our professors ensured that we had access to all the resources and support we required to do well.
"The people you meet and friends you make throughout the Honours program was definitely a highlight for me," he says.
Another Honour student who did exceptionally well at Monash is Quynh Do. She is starting her PhD in Economics at the department this year.
The topic for her Honour thesis last year was ‘How to divide a bankrupt estate. Evidence from the efficiency and fairness perspective'.
She chose the topic as despite bankruptcy and the division rules used to divide a bankrupt estate receiving a lot of attention in the economics field, the impact and the perceived fairness of these rules seems understudied.
"Proportional rule (PPP) is almost universally used in bankruptcy laws as it is perceived as the fairest rule, but another strand of literature suggests that it might not provide the best investment incentives," she says.
The paper made an effort to understand whether the tension between efficiency and fairness in this context is real or illusory.
"We found that PPP is perceived to be the fairest rule and also promotes the best investment incentives, taking into account the asymmetry in investment capacities by different agents."
Overall, she describes her Honours degree at Monash as a wonderful experience.
"I have met a lot of excellent friends and teachers, who have great passion in Economics and always aim for the highest level in research quality," she says.
"I'm honoured to do my PhD at Monash and to be able to continue doing research with the respectful and professional academic staff and peers.
Dr Ayushi Bajaj has been awarded a DECRA award from the Australian Research Council for a three-year research project on the impact of global trade and financial uncertainty on the Australian economy.
“It is a great motivation to pursue my research agenda, as the award indicates that my work has the potential for real world impact,” she says.
The Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) is awarded up to five years after resesarchers have completed their PhD.
In total $84 million has been announced for 200 new research projects under the scheme this year. More than $7 million was awarded to 17 early career researchers at Monash University. Dr Rohan Sweeney, from the Centre for Health Economics is the other recipient from Monash Business School.
“Honestly, I wasn't really expecting to get the fellowship, especially in the current climate. It came as a pleasant surprise, and particularly this year, as we all just need any good news that we can get," says Ayushi Bajaj.
"It puts a sense of responsibility on me as well, because as a young researcher I have been entrusted with a lot of resources to deliver on my project. “
Ayushi, you were awarded over $300,000 for this award. What will you focus on?
“I got the award to pursue my proposed project titled ‘Global Economic Uncertainty, Liquidity and Monetary Policy in Australia’. The key aim of the project is to analyse the impact of global trade and financial uncertainty on the Australian economy. The intended outcomes of the project include offering a new theory with the potential to guide future research and policy making.
"I think the project has become particularly relevant now given the renewed interest in topics around globalisation and international trade. The assessors might have recognised this and the importance of getting a better understanding on how future uncertainty affects current economic outcomes and what can be done about it.”
How will it impact your work?
“Now I will be required to mainly focus on research, spending at least 80 percent of my time towards the completion of the project over the next three years.”
What are you working on that you are excited by at the moment?
“Currently, I am working on a project related to the DECRA project, on which in fact my proposal was based. In that project, I do not talk about international trade but I develop an economic model for a closed economy to study the impact of economic uncertainty in that environment. With the DECRA project, I will expand this framework for an open economy to dwell into questions of globalisation and trade.
"I'm excited to see how the dynamics of my current economic model will play out, when we incorporate some real-world data into it. And, once that's done, it will be the bridge to get started on my DECRA project next year.”
The Department of Economics will launch the Yew Kwang Ng prominent seminar series in 2021. Professor Yew-Kwang Ng (Kwang) will be on a longer visit to the department in 2021 and we are very happy to welcome him back.
Kwang, served as a faculty member in the Department of Economics from 1974 to 2012. He was, in many respects, the face and soul of the department. Ken Arrow referred to Kwang as “one of the leading economic theorists of his generation” and James Buchanan paid tribute to Kwang’s presence on the world stage by calling him “an Australian ambassador”.
Throughout his long and lustrous career, Kwangs has received many accolades, the most prominent award perhaps being Distinguished Fellow of the Economic Society of Australia in 2007.
The breadth and depth of his research are staggering. He published his first paper at the age of 23, in the Journal of Political Economy, and he has maintained a remarkable level of intellectual engagement ever since. In Welfare Economics: he introduced the theory of the third best, advanced a theory of measuring happiness that renders utility cardinal, and his work on two-part pricing is standard reference in the field. He pioneered the approach of Mesoeconomics that releases macroeconomic analysis from the confines of the perfectly competitive model. Moreover, Kwang with his friend and colleague Xiaokai Yang, introduced corner solutions to a range of marginalist frameworks giving birth to inframarginal economics that makes the issue of the division of labor tractable.
Over the course of 4 decades Kwang was a regular participant in seminars, a mentor for younger staff, and a wonderful colleague. He retired from Monash in 2012. He is currently Professor of Economics at Fudan University in Shanghai.
Challenging for experimental economists when labs close
Right at the start of semester one the discussion started among the Monash Experimental Economists. The COVID-19 pandemic was closing down country after country and Professor Erte Xiao, Director of the Monash Laboratory for Experimental Economics (MonLEE) was worried how they would keep running the real-life experiments in the lab with students, so necessary to their research. Not long after, the lab was closed and experiments moved online.
“We had no choice but to switch to online platforms. Lata Gangadharan and I had a paper where the editor wanted us to run more experiments. Doing them online was the only way,” explains Professor Xiao.
As a starting point of the transition, MonLEE lab manager Nina Xue helped to create a protocol for how the online experiments would run: how to set them up, the change to a new appropriate software, how to recruit, pay the participants and keep track of the students online during the experiments.
The research pair consulted other experimental economists around the world for their experience in conducting the experiments online.
“The quality of data you collect from online experiments might not be as good as when you conduct experiments in a lab. You can’t fully control what students are doing online, which you could do in the lab," says Professor Xiao.
"It might mean that you have to recruit more participant to increase the sample size. On the other hand it might be cheaper to run experiments online so you can afford to do more of them.”
For longer and more complicated studies, it is difficult to maintain the students’ full attention and acquire reliable results. That is possibly one of the main reasons why not all experimental economists have resorted to online experiments.
“I think maybe people are completing unfinished projects this year and thinking more about ideas. Only about a third of the experimental economists at Monash were interested in online experiments when we sent out a survey,” she explains.
Like many of her colleagues, Professor Xiao is keen to get back in the lab with students once the pandemic is more under control. But she still thinks there will be a use for online studies in the future.
“They can work well on short, simple experiments. There are some procedures we can adopt to ensure anonymity and retain participants’ attention during the experiment,” she says.
In the future she would also like to collaborate more with other universities, even overseas, for larger online studies.
“If we can work this out and get interest from other universities we can share the resources. Collaborations become easier when it is all online. I guess that is something positive we have learned from this situation, it opens other doors and gives us more options.”
So what happened with the paper? “Well, we reported back to the editor that we’d run some more experiments and he was happy with that. Now we have to finish the revision – and we’ll see,” says Professor Xiao.
CDES busier than ever under lockdown
As COVID-19 forced countries went into lockdown, the Centre for Development Economics and Sustainability (CDES) became busier than usual. Partnering with collaborators such as NGOs, individual researchers and other research organisations in developing countries, it was able to conduct rapid actionable research and communicate these findings to policymakers to assist in the response to COVID-19.
"We were working along two lines of thought. We wanted to contribute to the public policy debate about different stimulus measures so we wrote pieces on India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Australia," says CDES director Asad Islam.
"We also wanted to quickly spread information on safety and protective measures to poor people in developing countries, so in collaboration with our partners we hired people to reach out to 100,000 people in India and Bangladesh."
CDES also wanted to give other researchers the opportunities to run similar projects in other countries and after an application process, several Monash projects were awarded funding.
Topics include understanding how COVID-19 influences the wellbeing of the elderly in Australia; evaluating the ethical appeal of ventilator allocation protocols; the impact of COVID-19 on employment in developing countries in Asia; and the response of India’s public hospitals to COVID-19.
In parallel, CDES are running very popular webinars, reaching worldwide audiences. "We wanted to understand broader issues than we usually deal with and talk to people who are in the policy circle, " says Professor Islam.
"This series has been hugely successful. For a seminar on COVID-19 in South Asia we had over 350 registered participants. Professor Jeffrey Sachs, one of world's the best sustainable development economists, participated in one of these seminars.
This is not only interesting content but also great for creating impact and brand building for Monash," says Professor Islam.
Previous topics have covered gender, the Indian economy under COVID-19 and how the poor cannot protect themselves against the pandemic. Future webinars will focus on food security and nutrition, the future of cities after Covid-19, challenges in international trade due to covid-19, and policy challenges for Southeast and East Asian countries.
And the research continues.
"We are working on food security, discrimination, stigma and mental health in developing countries to try to understand what kind of messaging could be more efficient in reaching out to and helping these people to tackle the pandemic.
"We are offering tele counselling services in Bangladesh so women can get a weekly tele counselling and can call back at any time to reach out for help about mental health and contacts for how to access food. In India, we are fighting fake news as there are a lot of misconceptions around the virus. For example, a lot of landlords are refusing to rent to doctors because they think the doctors are bringing the virus back."
CDES has the support of the faculty in offering more research grants for further long-term projects with a large impact. And the webinar series will continue at least until the end of July.
"We plan to go beyond in order to present some of the early research results which are currently now in the field," Professor Islam says.
"It is our moral obligation to respond to this crises. We can fill some gaps in a way that the colleagues in departments might not be able to do quickly and have more impact outside of citations and publications."
Several staff members from the Department have received Dean’s awards this year in both teaching and research. Congratulations!
Asad Islam is the recipient of the Dean’s Award for Excellence in research for his research in Development Economics. His research-based policies for improving educational outcomes for rural children, particularly females, in Bangladesh and adopting improved methods of rice cultivation for low income farmers have been implemented by government and development agencies. These have not only had impact already on large numbers but are likely to improve the livelihoods of millions. His research gets cited and discussed in many development fora and he has been hugely successful in attracting large external research grants.
It has been a very successful year for teaching in the department. No less than three people have been recognised for their outstanding teaching skills.
Wayne Geerling receives a Dean’s Award for Teaching Excellence. For his clear and engaging teaching methods of fundamental economics to large auditoriums. By using interactive resources, pop culture and multimedia he ensures classroom teaching is relevant, interesting and achieves better learning outcomes.
Wayne has also received a Teaching Excellence Award for the Faculty of Business and Economics from the Monash Student Association.
For the unit Principles of microeconomics Wayne was awarded a Purple Letter as the overall satisfaction score was 4.78 out of five. The course is one of the top 9.1 per cent of all Monash units and one the students consider outstanding.
Vai-Lam Mui is awarded a Dean’s Citation for Outstanding Contributions to Student Learning. His complementary approaches and activities aim to engage students in intellectual dialogues to help them cultivate the skills of using economics to understand the world.
Marco Leccci receives a Dean’s Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning as a Teaching Associate. For creating an effective and supportive learning environment that encourages critical thinking and fosters a deep understanding on how economic principles can be applied to real world problems.
Kushneel Prakash received the award for Best paper for his third paper entitled 'Petrol prices and Subjective wellbeing' at the Monash Business School Phd colloquium. 24 PhD students presented at the conference in November.
- Professor Gary Magee and Professor Yves Zenou were both Elected Fellows of the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia.
Established in 1971, the ASSA advances social policy and thinking by promoting research and its application.
The social sciences cover the disciplines of anthropology, demography, geography, linguistics, sociology, management, accounting, economics and economic history, marketing, statistics, history, law, philosophy, political science, education, psychology and social medicine.
This election recognises the contribution Professor Magee and Professor Zenou have made to the advancement of social science knowledge and the impact of their research.
“I am honoured to be elected to be a Fellow of such a prestigious organisation,” says Gary Magee.
“I look forward to contributing to the important work of the Academy in continuing to promote the advancement of the social sciences.”
Professor Magee is one of Australia’s leading economic historians. His research has advanced historical knowledge of industrial development, technological change, authoritarianism, transnationalism and globalisation.
Professor Zenou is a world expert on social interactions and network theory, urban economics, segregation and discrimination of ethnic minorities, criminality and education.
“This means a lot to me as it is the recognition of my contribution to the advancement of social science knowledge and the impact I have made to economics. It is not only a great honour but also an opportunity to contribute to the important work of the Academy in promoting the advancement of the social sciences,” says Yves Zenou.
- Mita Bhattacharya with co-authors received the award for her highly-cited paper titled 'The effect of renewable energy consumption on economic growth: Evidence from top 38 countries.' Applied Energy, 162, 733-741 (with Paramati S.R., Ozturk, I and Bhattacharya, S.). The award was presented during the International Conference on Applied Energy in Västerås, Sweden in August, 2019.
- Wayne Geerling was awarded a Purple Letter for Teaching Excellence in ECC1000 in semester 1 2019. It is awarded for SETU Median Satisfaction score ≥4.70/5. Wayne’s SETU scores at Clayton were the highest of any first-year course in the Monash Business School and was the only large first year course to receive a purple letter.
Monash Business School is currently ranked at number 24 out of 100 in the most recent Tilburg University ranking of economic schools globally. Monash is also ranked number 1 in Australia and New Zealand. The ranking is based on publications in a list of 79 leading journals in Economics, Econometrics and Finance for the last five-year time period.
Economics at Monash received the top rating of 5 for Economics as a whole and for all the specialisations ranked (Theory, Applied, and Econometrics). It is great to see all our hard work and accomplishments publicly recognised in this way. This is not a rating of just the Economics Department, but of all economics at Monash, including of course our wonderful colleagues at Department of Econometrics and Business Statistics, Centre for Health Economics, Centre for Development Economics and Sustainability, and elsewhere.
Congratulations also to our friends at Melbourne and UNSW, who also got top-rated scores.
Dean’s Citation for Teaching Excellence
Monash Student Association Outstanding Teaching Award (BusEco)
Monash Post-graduate Association Lecturer of the Year (finalist)
Dept. of Economics Teaching Award
Vai-Lam Mui, He-ling Shi
Dept. of Economics Teaching Award - Commendation
Dept. of Economics Teaching Prizes (by unit)
Wayne Geerling (2)
- ECC1000 Prin. of micro (S2 Clayton)
- ECC2300 Curr issues in macro pol (S2 Clayton)
He-Ling Shi (4)
- ECX3550 Business in Asia (S2 Caulfield)
- ECF2550 Business in Asia (S2 Caulfield)
- ECC5953 Economics (S1 Clayton)
- ECF5953 Economics (S1 Caulfield)
- ECB3121 Econ of int trade & fin (S1 Peninsula)
- ECC3710 Labour economics (S1 Clayton)
- ECB1101 Introductory micro (S1 Peninsula)
- ECC2400 Curr issues in appl micro (S1 Clayton)
- ECC4650 Microeconomics (S1 Clayton)
- ECF5921 Int economics (S1 Caulfield)
Congratulations to all for your hard work and outstanding performance!