Economics faculty is too US-centred

A little more perspective

Few studies are as inherently international as economics. Yet the curriculum at the Faculty of Economics and Business focuses almost exclusively on the United States and Western Europe, students complain. ‘Whenever they talk about China, it is only as Europe’s factory.’
8 May om 12:33 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 9 May 2023
om 9:46 uur.
May 8 at 12:33 PM.
Last modified on May 9, 2023
at 9:46 AM.
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Door Enrique Aguilar Urrutia

8 May om 12:33 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 9 May 2023
om 9:46 uur.
Avatar photo

By Enrique Aguilar Urrutia

May 8 at 12:33 PM.
Last modified on May 9, 2023
at 9:46 AM.
Avatar photo

Enrique Aguilar Urrutia

Corporate Finance (2019) by Berk and DeMarzo discusses stocks and taxes by describing US income tax rates and banking rules in the US, even distinguishing per state. Not a word on other countries’ economic systems, though. 

In International Economics (2014) by Feenstra and Taylor, one might expect more diversity, yet the name ‘United States’ appears 1280 times, while ‘The Netherlands’ is only used 40 times. 

And Global Business (2017) by Peng touches upon moving factories abroad, but barely mentions the climate costs and social costs for the receiving country. 

It’s like that with almost every course book within the Faculty of Economics and Business (FEB), says Jianghao Xu, while flipping through the course book for his International Business exam. Page after page he sees the same thing. ‘This book is so American, it feels like we are studying American economics.’


He noticed it soon into his study of economics and business economics: almost all the books he had to read were about the United States or Western Europe. The rest of the world was – if mentioned at all – underexplained and neglected.

‘Most perspectives are centred on European and American economics, and how advanced those countries are compared to the “rest of the world”’, Jianghao says. ‘We only learn about international economics when it directly affects Europe or the US.’ 

All of that one-sidedness encourages discrimination

Of the twelve first-year economics courses, only one textbook was not written by a US author. And that’s a bad thing, he believes. ‘It’s worrying to have just one school of thought. All of that one-sidedness encourages discrimination or prejudice against other places.’

As someone who was born in China and raised in India, the UG’s promise of an international economics programme appealed to him. But that’s not what he’s getting. Students’ home countries, he says, are only discussed as offshoring locations. ‘Whenever they talk about China, it is only as Europe’s factory, or the US’ factory. Never as an economy in its own right.’

Even Europe doesn’t get as much attention as it should, he says. ‘We need more examples from the Eurozone and the European Central Bank, instead of just learning how the US did something.’

Open mindset

Jianghao is not the only one who feels the curriculum at the Faculty of Economics and Business is too one-sided. Isabella Sulter, a Dutch second-year economics student, agrees wholeheartedly. ‘You are trained to look at things in the American and western way, and I think the UG doesn’t give us the right tools to keep an open mindset when looking at international economies.’

‘It’s kind of sad’, she says. ‘This perception of economics is ingrained in our textbooks and in all of these types of courses. It would take so much work to change all of that.’

Most of the students probably have no idea of what is going on in India

First-year Martín Bartesaghi from Uruguay feels that world trends are overlooked in Groningen. ‘For example, the rise of China, we don’t learn about that.’

Dutch international relations student Salman Hairan, who got his international business degree in 2020, calls the diversity in the curriculum at FEB ‘poor’. ‘It is always the extremes. Most of the students probably have no idea of what is going on in India, or even in Eastern Europe.’

His experience with the Faculty of Arts is quite different, he says. Arts is actively working on de-westernization. ‘The international relations programme is currently introducing more articles into the syllabus to substitute the paradigmatic books, so we’ll get diverse perspectives.’

Dutch perspective

FEB international affairs director Rieks Bos agrees with the students that the faculty is ‘a bit’ focused on the US. ‘The essence of internationalisation is to confront students with different perspectives, not to bring them to us and to give them all the same perspective’, he says. ‘Sometimes we forget it would be nice to give a Dutch perspective. We hear from US students: Why should I travel to the Netherlands to be taught from the same books and get the same perspectives I have at home?’

‘There is a lack of internationalisation at FEB as a whole’, says assistant professor Asad Rauf, who teaches banking and international finances. ‘But it is especially acute in development and globalisation programmes. In those, you can still find the “white man’s lens”. Some extra international flavour in the development programmes would be for the better of the faculty.’

In development programmes you can still find the “white man’s lens”

That’s easier said than done, though. ‘In business and finance programmes especially, it is hard to delete all US influence’, Rauf says. Finding better literature than what is currently used will be difficult, he believes. ‘These books are the easiest way to introduce students to their fields.’

Economic research, too, is dominated by US academics and US journals, which makes it impossible to avoid teaching US perspectives to students, Rauf says. According to him, journals won’t even publish if you use data from other countries. ‘It is essential to have US data to succeed in the economics academia. Editors will ask too many questions otherwise.’


Changing the situation might be difficult, Isabella understands. She believes lecturers are open to criticism, but doubts their ability to actually do something with it. Small steps should be attainable though, she says: ‘It would be a great start to simply warn students, be careful, this is the US view and might not apply to every country.’

Jianghao feels modifications to the curriculum are unavoidable. ‘More international students are coming from Asia, Africa and South America, and they are spreading their thoughts and values. I think it’s just a matter of time.’

And the faculty is taking action, Bos stresses. The ongoing project ‘Future-proof education’ aims to provide more non-western perspectives, which should help with diversity.

The world is globalising rapidly, and the university should do the same, Bos says. ‘Countries can no longer be treated as these far-away places. China, parts of Africa, and many other areas will become a huge part of the world economy, and we need to know how things work there. There are different perspectives on how finance should work. Think about Islamic finance, think about Turkey. Even close to Europe, there are already different perspectives.’

But how should FEB go about changing its curriculum? Not by throwing away what the faculty offers now, Bos says, but by adding to the current books and the perspectives. ‘I think a lot can be done, and I think a lot will change.’