Development Economics? SOAS vs. Nottingham Watch

(ij)
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Hello!

SOAS:
I got offers from both universities and now I am choosing which university I would like to go to. I wonder about the Quantitative Methods courses offered at SOAS since they seem to be a bit superficial, don't they? What software is used to undertake empirical research at SOAS? Is anybody here studying at SOAS and could provide information beyond the course description available on the website?

According to some publications of McCartney, he seems to dislike cross country regressions and empirical methodology at all. How is the other staff's opinion on that?

NOTTINGHAM:
Nottingham has a good overall reputation, but I only heard about them with regard to their trade specialists. What about their development staff?

Thanks for any comments.
(ij)
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billyboymccoy
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Is this for undergraduate or post grad? From the little I know I always thought SOAS was the place for development economics.
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(ij)
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Yes, it is for postgraduate study. And yes, it is famous for being development orientated. I would like to pursue an academic career and that is why I am a bit cautious about SOAS now. They seem to neglect econometric skills and, unfortunately, econometrics is sort of a hobby for me and it is essentiell for any academic...
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Inter-Company
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I would say it depends on your skills/interest

SOAS is considered an excellent establishment for postgrad in the studies of developmental economics so that would be a great choice if thats what interests you - perhaps try and email a tutor or someone to find out about how rigorous the contents of the postgard are
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cantthinkofaname
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SOAS is a very good choice for development economics especially considering it is within the centre of such issues.
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.ACS.
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Both Nottingham and SOAS are very good universities, especially for economics, although it is true that SOAS pretty much specialises in development economics.

If you're concerned about the level of econometrics at SOAS, then contact an admissions tutor or lecturer and see what they say. From simply looking at the course content, it looks as if you would do more econometrics at Nottingham, though only someone who has already done that course can comment on QMI and QMII.

It's up to you really - do you want more econometrics modules, or more development economics focused modules?
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cantthinkofaname
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(Original post by .ACS.)
Both Nottingham and SOAS are very good universities, especially for economics, although it is true that SOAS pretty much specialises in development economics.

If you're concerned about the level of econometrics at SOAS, then contact an admissions tutor or lecturer and see what they say. From simply looking at the course content, it looks as if you would do more econometrics at Nottingham, though only someone who has already done that course can comment on QMI and QMII.

It's up to you really - do you want more econometrics modules, or more development economics focused modules?
considering SOAS specialises in asian and african studies then it would be a far better place to study in development which considers such issues.
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TSRreader
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You want to become an academia right? So you only want a master and not a PhD? Generally, economic academia all have a PhD. The reason I saying is that if you want a master for a good PhD, then Notts is better. I think SOAS is generally more for NGOs and public sector than academia. I just have a feeling that you won't have as a good prospect with PhD from SOAS in academia than Notts.

I would rather recommended you to go to http://www.urch.com/forums/phd-economics/ for anything related to economic academia prospects. I don't think ppl on this board can give you any useful stuff for economic academia compared to that given forum. It's quite apparent that its more IB dominated here.

Edit: I just read the front page of SOAS economic Department, they admit themselves to be Heterodox Economists. Which explains why they don't prefer econometrics. I don't think you can land up in any good Econ department with a Heterodox postgraduate degree when majority of the academia are dominated by mainstream economists. Its generally quite difficult to find research funds for Heterodox economics even with a Harvard PhD. Most of Harvard, Yale etc Heterodox PhD researcher lands up in forgotten places like New School. So I seriously recommend you to be careful in choosing between the two.
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(ij)
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(Original post by TSRreader)
You want to become an academia right? So you only want a master and not a PhD? Generally, economic academia all have a PhD. The reason I saying is that if you want a master for a good PhD, then Notts is better.
That is my reasoning. I want to do an British Master because I intend to apply to Oxbridge, LSE or an Ivy in the States for a PhD-programm. It is simply easier to apply with an British degree.

(Original post by TSRreader)
I think SOAS is generally more for NGOs and public sector than academia. I just have a feeling that you won't have as a good prospect with PhD from SOAS in academia than Notts.
I came to the same conclusion, especially after looking careful on the publication lists of most of the SOAS staff. Journals like the "Review of Radical Political Economy" focussing on Gay, Lesbian and Feminist Economics, or the "post-autistic economics review" (lol) strongly convinced me to go elsewhere.

Thanks a lot for the other forum! I did not know it before.

I just read the front page of SOAS economic Department, they admit themselves to be Heterodox Economists. Which explains why they don't prefer econometrics. I don't think you can land up in any good Econ department with a Heterodox postgraduate degree when majority of the academia are dominated by mainstream economists. Its generally quite difficult to find research funds for Heterodox economics even with a Harvard PhD. Most of Harvard, Yale etc Heterodox PhD researcher lands up in forgotten places like New School. So I seriously recommend you to be careful in choosing between the two.
I think that this is no good point. The "heterodox" economist I know are very keen on econometrics and technical computing, since they refer to themselves as "econophysicists" and are computing agent based models all the day. So there is difference among heterodox economists.

Best wishes
(ij)
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(Original post by (ij))

I think that this is no good point. The "heterodox" economist I know are very keen on econometrics and technical computing, since they refer to themselves as "econophysicists" and are computing agent based models all the day. So there is difference among heterodox economists.

Best wishes
(ij)
Sorry for not being clear on the generalisation, yes there are diverse groups of heterodox economists. But I am quite sure that most wanna-be physicists :rolleyes: belong to orthodox economics. In fact, the major division between orthodox and heterodox is mathematics. Probably, those economists you mentioned belongs more being pluralist economists - they are willing to integrate heterodox and orthodox. Generally, economists who classify to be heterodox tend to distrust mathematic finding - especially in econometrics. Much due to they distrust on mainstream economic assumptions for mathematic model.

I am not sure if its too late to say that UK's master aren't the only gateways to Oxbridge or Ivy leagues. Universities like U Tillburga, Pompeu Fabra and top Canadian Uni etc can also send you to MIT, Stanford, U Chicago, Harvard, UC Berkley. Tbh, its more surprising to find UK master holders in those schools. I recommend you to look at job market's CVs in Top US schools or Oxbridge, you will get a better idea on how ppl got there.

Best of luck!
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(ij)
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(Original post by TSRreader)
I am not sure if its too late to say that UK's master aren't the only gateways to Oxbridge or Ivy leagues. [...] Tbh, its more surprising to find UK master holders in those schools.
Yes, but it is even more surprising to find someone with a German "Diplom" at those schools. Having both, it is somehow more probable that they regard me as eligible. Additionally, it is easier to get into Oxbridge or LSE. I will apply to the Ivy league but I would prefer Oxbridge or LSE because they are in Europe (I know this is not a very "academic" reason but I love the European culture more than the American one).

Best wishes
(ij)
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tbv
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I am really surprised by some of the conclusions reached in this thread. SOAS is a specialist research institution and while it is true that many graduates choose to go into NGO and the public sector, those fields are much closer to academia than the alternative - private sector. If anything, going to SOAS for development economics would make it difficult to use your degree for something other than developmental work - whether that is NGO work, public sector or academia.

Without being too familiar with the taught masters course at soas, I can say there are many PhD students at soas who did their masters at soas and at undergrad level the tendency of students to remain for postgraduate degrees and enter academia is very high (due to the specialist, research oriented focus of the university). If your goal is to apply to a PhD program at a top university in the UK, then I am confident that those universities will look at your SOAS masters degree favorably.

While it is true that some faculty (and students, but probably for other reasons) in the economics department are critical of overly mathematical approaches and cross-country regressions, this does reflect the fact that its predominately a development economics department as well as the developments in the field. Criticism of cross-country regression is not limited to heterodox economist but broadly shared by mainstream developmental economists and I'm sure this would be a major theme in development economics courses of any other university as well. At the same time, obviously econometrics is an important tool and the researchers at soas do use it widely for their work.

I recommend that you take a broader look at the work of economics staff such as A Booth, B Fine, R Ash, M Khan, J Harrigan, M Karshenas or M Nissanke to get a good and realistic overview of what kind of research is produced by the department (believe it or not, Gay, Lesbian and Feminist Economics is not the main focus).
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First of all, OP want use this master for a top mainstream PhD so he needs to send a signal to adcom that he's capable to handle of a rigorous and mathematical parts in economics. Since he will have to use mathematics to publish his PhD's thesis, no heavy maths content will send a doubt to adcom if OP can actually finish his PhD. Also OP will have a difficult time to get a good LOR (letter of recommendation) as mainstream economists aren't very aware of heterodox groups. In fact you won't find SOAS economic department ranked even in World's top 200 department for economics.

Econometrics is not the only mathematics huge part. It's very different in graduate area, real analysis are applied etc. It very likely that mainstream axioms are not taught to SOAS postgrad's student. Just look at Oxford DPhil requirement, they need a MPhil comparable to Oxford's MPhil that are intense in mathematics for theories in macroeconomics and microeconomics. How can SOAS's Msc be even close to Oxford's MPhil's course?


I doubt that SOAS PhD student cand enter a good mainstream department. Firstly, heterodox tends to publish less due to not using mathematical tool compare to mainstream. Therefore, can't help a department to raise funds for research. Secondly, a mainstream department can hire mainstream PhD who not only strong in development but also other field. In mainstream, as long you are strong in mathematics, you can pick up mainstream's axiom and theories. http://www.economics.ox.ac.uk/index.php/job_candidates/, Here's a list of Job Market Candidate for Oxford, you will find ppl have 2 or more field of research.

Just look at a UC Berkely's Yingyi Qian http://elsa.berkeley.edu/~yqian/cvqian.pdf, nothing related to development before PhD but was able to become a reputable development economist because of the mathematical background.

Look at it this way, most accomplished (those who place in university) heterodox economist graduated their PhD not from a heterodox school but an orthodox school.
For example, SOAS's head of economics J Harrigan [BA (Oxon), MPhil (Camb), PhD (Manchester)] etc all orthodox school and nothing related to heterodox. With a mainstream PhD, both orthodox and heterodox accepts you. No heterodox economist have won Nobel Memorial Prize of Alfred Nobel in Economics other than the Austrian School. All IMF and World Bank Chief economists are mainstream. Heterodox economics just don't have a real place in World stage atm.

Of course, all this is only relevant to postgraduate, I doubt ppl will be on the losing side for doing undergrad in SOAS since Heterodox and mainstream are more or less agreed on undergrad stuff - its the postgrad that differs a lot.
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tbv
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First of all, you make the assumption that the masters degree teaching at Oxford is of a highly complex and mathematical nature whereas SOAS doesn't even come close to it. If you look at the course outline for Oxford's Msc Economics for Development course (which is what should be used to compare to SOAS' Msc Development Economics course) you will see for example that the key text for the macroeconomics module is Agenor and Montiel's Development Macroeconomics. Without having taken either course, I do think it would be fair to say that SOAS' course is probably not significnatly less "intense in mathematics" since (surprise, surprise) it is based on the same text book. Similarly, the Quantitative Methods unit at Oxford is very similar to that at SOAS and both use STATA as far as I know. What I'm trying to get to is that the material of (comparable) taught masters programs isn't that different between SOAS, Oxford and probably many other UK universities.

As for OP's goals to do a PhD, I assumed that he/she was interested in development economics as otherwise SOAS would obviously be the wrong destination. I'm not sure how familiar you are with development economics and where the (academic) field is headed judging by the blanket assumptions that you make about heterodox economics. If you look at the dev. studies committee at Cambridge for example (http://www.devstudies.cam.ac.uk/staff/academic.html) you will see that even at an institution that you would probably call and praise as being orthodox, SOAS influence is well established - not to mention influential developmental economists such as Ha-Joon Chang who could be described as heterodox. My point is that if OP decides to do a PhD in development economics, a degree and recommendation from SOAS will not be some sort of automatic "heterodox economics" curse.
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(ij)
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(Original post by tbv)
I recommend that you take a broader look at the work of economics staff such as A Booth, B Fine, R Ash, M Khan, J Harrigan, M Karshenas or M Nissanke to get a good and realistic overview of what kind of research is produced by the department (believe it or not, Gay, Lesbian and Feminist Economics is not the main focus).
Actually, I did take a look on the research of SOAS staff. I would do the MSc Dev. Econ (taught) and the courses are mainly given by Khan, Groom, Blin, Miyamura, Nissanke, McCartney and Smith.

I really like the work of Groom, Nissanke and Khan. I read some paper of Groom and there are two books of Khan on my table. There is no doubt that this is really good scientific work.

However, take for instance Myriam Blin. There are only two working papers available for her and they refer to Feminist Economics. Look at McCartney's CV. He published a lot of ridiculous reports in the "post autistic economics review". Read some of them! Honestly, this is not the way how science is done.

I would not get in touch with Ben Fine since he does not teach any Masters courses.

Best wishes
(ij)
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tbv, I think you are very much missing the point. OP wants a PhD in economic with research interest into development economics not a PhD in Development Economics.
In regards to comparison of MPhil and Msc, I was refering to the Oxford's MPhil economic taught contents versus SOAS's Msc taught content. And only a few gets into the PhD process. Even those who get in, they will be on probation. The probation is ended by taking MPhil exams which again is a math heavy test. So at the end of the day, those Oxford Msc Development Economics will fulfill the courses done by the MPhil applicants.

http://www.econ.cam.ac.uk/prospect/phd/entry.html, Look at Cambridge. http://www.lse.ac.uk/resources/gradu...fEconomics.htm , and here's LSE. Both will say that those who apply for PhD from outside their department will require similar taught content to their own masters. So why don't you compare SOAS's content with theirs?

SOAS Core Econometrics related:
http://www.soas.ac.uk/courseunits/15PECC008.php
http://www.soas.ac.uk/courseunits/15PECC045.php

LSE Core Econometrics related:
http://www.lse.ac.uk/resources/calen...2007_EC402.htm

Nottingham:
http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/economic...les/L14009.htm
http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/economic...les/L14003.htm

Mathematic stuff like Asymptotic Theory is missing in SOAS. I can't compare Oxford since the exact information for each graduate course are restricted to access.

In terms of recommendation, the OP has to be lucky that adcom belongs to the development group or else adcom may doubt the quality of work done in SOAS.

tbv, unless you can provide me a placement history for SOAS PhD that are placed into good department other than itself. Or else you don't have enough evidence to state that SOAS PhD won't be hindered by relating to heterodox in entering academia.

So why should OP take up unnecessary risk for SOAS when he has a much better chance to enter a PhD in UK top 5 with a master from Nottingham? Academia for economic is very tough as competition is very high.
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rochey
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I will be entering the Msc at SOAS this year, and I have a number of friends who have just completed the course, so maybe I can offer some insights.

First of all, there is definitely a difference between the extent of mathematical focus at SOAS compared to somewhere like Nottingham. The core econometrics course (QM 1 and 2) are pretty much the same as you'd get in any top economics department, but the main difference with SOAS is that the core Micro and Macro focus less on the models and more on the debates. For example, I have seen some past Macro exam questions for the MSc Economics for Development at Oxford, and they basically take the form of 1) explain the model, 2) explain a specific aspect of the model, if a variable changes what happens, 3) if something totally exogenous happens related to a different area of your understanding of economics, what would happen in the model.
So you really need to know the models inside out, mathematically.
By contrast, at SOAS the Macro exam paper takes the form of essay questions, like "to what extent do the economic policy prescriptions of IMF structural adjustment programmes have a basis in economic theory? answer with reference to the Polak model" (i'm making this up, but that's the general style). So you'll have to know the models in order to write about them, but they are assessing your ability to critique the model as well as understand it, rather than assessing how far you understand the mathematical mechanics of the model. So, you will learn standard Masters-level econometrics to a high standard, but the core theory (macro + micro) modules are taught differently than they might be in a more "mainstream" department.

The department on the whole can definitely be considered a heterodox department, which I personally consider to be a strength, but this of course depends on where you stand on such debates. Ben Fine is a highly respected Marxist economist, and Costas Lapavitsas who teaches the Finance course is also very much a Marxist. But then people like Nissanke, Khan and Harrigan are definitely progressive economists but not proper Marxist like Fine, and they are very well established and their views are widely sought as consultants etc. The real strength of the soas economics department is that the whole department is focussed on development economics: in Nottingham, you might have a couple of academics who specialise in development, which is just enough to string out a Masters course, but you won't have the depth of specialisation that you have at SOAS.

From the post-Masters standpoint, I think you can safely say that the soas msc is a highly respected course. The ODI fellowship scheme which places economists in developing country finance ministries is known to rate the soas course very highly, and soas has i think the highest placement rate on the scheme out of any dev econ masters in the country. When it comes to doing a PhD however, this depends on what you want to do. I don't think it's a question of which university you want to go to - Oxford and Cambridge have plenty of 'heterodox' economists, for example, who you could study a phd under. Like a previous person said, Ha-Joon Chang is a really top Cambridge development economist, and he is a very heterodox guy, I'm sure he'd love a SOAS graduate as a doctoral student. So I'd say it's less about how much quantitative training universities require for their phd programmes, but more about how much quant you want to learn bearing in mind what you might want to do for a doctorate. If you want to do a highly quantitative doctorate then I'd recommend getting all the training you can get! I mean, if you're planning on going to a US university, you get all the maths classes anyway as part of the doctoral programme so you don't have to worry about that. But overall, the key thing to recognise is that the SOAS MSc is accredited by ESRC as providing the necessary masters training for PhD research in Economics. This is basically the benchmark of whether it's a programme sufficient to prepare you for PhD, and would be recognised as such by other UK universities.

I think the question you have to ask yourself is really, what is your particular point of view on economic methodology? If you're curious about critiques of neoclassical economics and want an all-round development economics training, then I'd go to SOAS (that's why I'm going!). On the other hand, if you very much consider yourself a mainstream economist who wants to apply standard mathematical anaytical tools to a focus on developing economies, and be as quantitative as possible, then Nottingham might be better.
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When you mean by debate, is it discussion on how economic principles should be implemented? That's quite sounds like policy studies? So it's more normative than positive? And if so, how different is it from policy studies' approach?
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(ij)
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(Original post by rochey)
I think the question you have to ask yourself is really, what is your particular point of view on economic methodology? If you're curious about critiques of neoclassical economics and want an all-round development economics training, then I'd go to SOAS (that's why I'm going!). On the other hand, if you very much consider yourself a mainstream economist who wants to apply standard mathematical anaytical tools to a focus on developing economies, and be as quantitative as possible, then Nottingham might be better.
Honestly, I do not like these "Mainstream vs. the bravehearted other" discussions. I want to do science! I spoke to a few development and trade economists who are in a high research position and nobody acutally believed in neoclassical models. The criticism to neoclassical world is obvious, but the crucial point is how we adress it!

We could say: "Ok, look, neoclassical models assume blablabla, so this assumption never holds, so we do not need to take care about neoclassical models". Or we could say: "Ok, let us investigate what happens if we relax this and that assumption". If you read some papers, for instance from the "post-autistic economists", the choose the first way of adressing neoclassical models. This is no science.

I am used to the other way. At my university, we look at different models of behaviour, for instance expected utility (which could be named as "classical but rejected by evidence" aproach), prospect theory, rank-dependent models, PT of the third generation and so on. We model altruistic preferences in order to investigate what happens in a neoclassical model if preferences are not only self-regarding. We compute and simulate highly complex agent-based models in different markets in order to investigate what happens, if we assume heterogeniety among agents. We also investigate what happens in standard trade models if firms are different. All this we do within mathematical models.

So, please tell me, what is mainstream economics? Do you mean the standard undergraduate textbook examples by Mankiw? Or do you mean the modeling of systematic deviation from rational behaviour as is done frequently in recent research papers?

I fear that, at SOAS, I would get "forget about neoclassical models". But I would like to get in touch with formal models that approach reality and I believe that it is worth to formulate models mathematically. That is why I decided to go elsewhere.

Additionally, there are two points where I would like to disagree.

Regarding applications to other universities for PhD programmes, it is of utmost importance who writes your LORs, at least if you try to reach the good departments.

Regarding the quantitative amount of work at SOAS, they state that they do not require formal proofs or that like. However, my research experience is that is favorable to know the exact mathematical formulation of some statistical tools in order to evaluate critically what has been done in some paper. I think knowing issues about weak instruments, Granger causality tests (you should look for a paper named "Chickens, Eggs and causality, or which came first by Thurman and Fisher, its funny to read) or Bayesian statistical methods (they are far better in small samples than the normal ML estimators, which is indeed a problem in development economics) is also very important, especially if your policy recommendations (that might be derived from empirical evidence) affect the life of thousands!

Kind regards
(ij)
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agent008
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You've probably made your choice by the time you read this, but I'll put down a few lines anyway. I've studied economics both at Nottingham and at SOAS, so I believe 'm well placed to provide you with an informed reply.

Economics at the two universities is very different. The SOAS courses are essentially text-based. You read a lot of articles, and hopefully develop your critical perspective and understanding of economic theory and practice. Evaluation at SOAS essentially consists of essays on topics in development economics, and you can get an excellent mark without any use of maths. Whatever maths based teaching there is (essentially only econometrics) does not go beyond what is normally considered undergraduate level. This is due to the political economy orientation of the economics department at SOAS, but also to the fact that students are accepted at Master's level with little previous preparation in economics. Moreover, most of the optional courses are joint with the M.Sc. in political economy, which requires no previous preparation in maths or economics at all.

The Master's programme at Nottingham is a standard neoclassical programme, with all maths-based teaching and evaluation. The Economics department has a very strong research record, and a research centre dedicated to development economics and trade (CREDIT). Some students argue that teaching at Nottingham suffers from the intense focus on research, and the M.Sc. programme does have some weaknesses such as in particular the specialized courses not having tutorials. A consequence of the lack of tutorials is that studying becomes very focused on memorization, and less on the development of skills in manipulating models or applied econometric research. With tutorials only during the first term, there is also little incentive for joint studying, and most students find themselves doing almost exclusively individual reading. However, this being a standard economics programme, most people with an undergraduate in economics would know roughly what to expect.

I would say that if you plan to become an academic economist, then Nottingham provides maths-based skills that you will need for PhD studies and which are not provided at SOAS. On the other hand, if you think that you will be doing little maths based work as a professional economist, and rather wish to focus your studies on becoming familiar with the literature in development economics, then this is what SOAS provides. Essentially the economics Master's at SOAS is a degree in political economy rather than a degree in economics as defined by the use of mathematical language.

Hope this is useful.
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