Final year economics students at Sheffield University are furious after an exam this week contained questions they found “impossible”.
The paper, on the economics of cities, contained compulsory questions on topics they had never been taught, say the students.
More than 90% of those who took the exam have now signed an online petition demanding the university investigate.
The university said all questions were based on topics taught in the course.
But, in a tweet, one candidate complained: “Question three may as well have been in Chinese.”
Another asked: “How can they write a paper and include questions on something we haven’t been taught, or told to research?”
Just over 100 students took the exam on Wednesday.
Well, here is question 3. And it’s 30 years since I did any formal economics (or, indeed, any algebra and I never really did cotton on to that anyway). But I reckon that anyone reasonably attentive should be able to get 50% on this question in about 5 minutes.
Coordination costs are just what they say on the tin. There’s value to the division and specialisation of labour (derived from Adam Smith). There’s value to comparative advantage and trade in the resultant production (Smith and Ricardo). However, there’s obviously costs associated with finding the people one is going to divide and specialise with, who one is going to trade with, discovering what is comparative and so on. These are coordination costs. A close analogue is that we know that there are economies of scale at times: but we also should be aware that there are diseconomies of scale.
That the exponent on N is greater than 1 is simply a reflection of the thought that coordination costs rise with the number of people being coordinated with. To assume otherwise would be to assume that we had declining coordination costs with scale: that 2 billion people could work out how to divide, specialise and trade more easily than 2 people could. This is neither a reflection of the world we see out the window nor a reasonable starting assumption. Therefore we don’t make it.
The graph, well, I can’t work out how to draw an electronic graph. But axes, two lines. Optimal city size is where the lines cross. Must be: when the rise in coordination costs is lower than the extra production then the people in the city will be richer in a larger one. Where the marginal coordination costs are higher than the extra production then richer in a smaller one. What that actual size is depends upon what the actual values of the parameters are.
c) would take a bit more thinking about (hey, you have a go!). Just the above would provide a pass I’m pretty sure. Probably a Desmond these days actually.
And seriously folks, you really don’t need to be in your final year of an economics degree in order to get the above right.