“An easy subject, at which very few excel! The paradox finds its explanation, perhaps, in that master-economists must possess a rare combination of gifts. They must reach a high standard in several different directions and must combine talents not often found together. They must be mathematician, historian, statesman, philosopher—in some degree. They must understand symbols and speak in words. They must contemplate the particular in terms of the general, and touch abstract and concrete in the same flight of thought. They must study the present in the light of the past for the purposes of the future. No part of human nature or institutions must lie entirely outside their regard. They must be purposeful and disinterested in a simultaneous mood; as aloof and incorruptible as an artist, yet sometimes as near the earth as a politician.” (J. M. Keynes on Alfred Marshall, Essays in Biography, CW X, 173–4, modernised)

The First Year

The first year consists of Part I of the Economics Tripos which offers a complete course in political economy to an intermediate level. In accordance with the tradition established in 1903 by Alfred Marshall, the course not only covers the theory of economic behaviour, both at the level of the individual (microeconomics) and of the economy as a whole (macroeconomics), but also encourages and equips students to apply theoretical reasoning to questions of policy through the intelligent use of statistical data and the study of British economic history and political institutions.

The Second and Third Years

In the second year (Part IIA), students take four papers. Microeconomics, Macroeconomics and Econometrics are compulsory. The fourth paper is chosen from Development, Sociology, Labour or Mathematics. The third and final year (Part IIB) consists of two compulsory papers (Microeconomics and Macroeconomics), two papers from a wide array of options and a compulsory dissertation on a suitable topic of your choice. Recent dissertations include an econometric study of the growth of the public sector in OECD countries, a study of the UK evidence for an environmental Kuznets Curve and a study of the literature on the relationship between culture and market structure in the informal economy. Throughout Part II there is an emphasis on learning and using mathematical tools for the analysis of economic problems.

The College plans to admit four undergraduates to read Economics in October 2015. The subject is unusual in demanding a very high standard of both mathematical and verbal reasoning and analysis in English. Candidates for interview will normally be expecting A* (or equivalent) in Mathematics and may well have taken Further Mathematics, where available at their school, together with at least one subject from the humanities (including geography). Students are supervised by Fellows and supervisors both from Robinson College and other Cambridge colleges. Robinson students find the College lively, comfortable, and very conveniently placed for access to the Economics Faculty, the Marshall Library of Economics and the University Library. The Economics section of the College Library is well stocked with textbooks and some more specialised texts.

For further information visit the Faculty of Economics, the Robinson College pages on Law and Theology, and the University of Cambridge Undergraduate Prospectus.

“It seems to me that economics is a branch of logic, a way of thinking; and that you do not repel sufficiently firmly attempts to turn it into a pseudo-natural-science. Economics is a science of thinking in terms of models joined to the art of choosing models which are relevant to the contemporary world. It is compelled to be this, because, unlike the typical natural science, the material to which it is applied is, in too many respects, not homogeneous through time. The object of a model is to segregate the semi-permanent or relatively constant factors from those which are transitory or fluctuating so as to develop a logical way of thinking about the latter, and of understanding the time sequences to which they give rise in particular cases. Good economists are scarce because the gift for using “vigilant observation” to choose good models, although it does not require a highly specialised intellectual technique, appears to be a very rare one.” (J. M. Keynes, letter to R. F. Harrod, July 1938, CW XIV, 297–8)

Updated September 2015