Learning Leadership

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Winners of the 2019 UNSW Arts & Social Sciences Dean’s Research Awards
Winners of the 2019 UNSW Arts & Social Sciences Dean’s Research Awards

PPE – Philosophy, Politics & Economics – has been a popular course since it was first introduced in Oxford in 1921 and taken up by Universities across the world. School student Avi Dayani, explores how universities like UNSW, Sydney are making it more Asia-Pacific centric as to be more contemporary and relevant to regional students  

As I am exploring options to pursue after school, the subjects of history, economics and political studies seem the most attractive. As separate subjects they are, to be frank, rather limited and not particularly remarkable, but when I came across Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE) as a combination, they seem to hit a jackpot! Not only does this course guarantee to significantly widen the horizons of a student but it manufactures leaders with the power and influence to lead companies, institutions and, believe it or not, countries. 

PPE was a course founded and created at Oxford in 1921 post the first world war. Initially, the purpose of this course was to transform society into one that would be more self-aware and progressive, it planned on doing this by evaluating the modern and classic works of social, political, philosophical and economic thought. This structure has remained the same over the many generations that have passed since it began. 

When I first learnt about this course, I wondered ‘what makes PPE different from studying all the three subjects separately?’ And the answer was astoundingly simple! PPE as a course is designed to teach philosophy, politics and economics in relation to one another. As more often than not the answer to a political / economic / philosophical question is deeply rooted in one of the other two subjects.

A simple example of this is, when a government subsidizes a particular industry (a decision regarding the economy) it may have a strong political reasoning such as gaining votes from the workers in that specific industry. This enables PPE graduates to have an in-depth and more well-rounded understanding of how the world functions which is useful for a variety of jobs and activities. Whereas studying them all separately would not have the same advantage for the simple reason that they aren’t intertwined and therefore the subjects don’t explain each other.

Over the years many different colleges have adopted this course and have taken the liberty to make this already fascinating course all the more interesting. For example, the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Sydney teaches PPE from an Asian viewpoint, so as opposed to learning about western politics and economics, at UNSW a student learns about Asian politics and economics. This is done through having Asian experts on the faculty, like Professor Kama Maclean who has researched and published extensively on Indian history;  Prof. Mina Roces, who is a very well known specialist on women in Asia; A. Professor Fengshi Wu has an empirical focus on China and Asia and works closely on environmental issues in China, among others. 

PPE has been studied by a diverse set of leaders – from Scott Morrison, Australian Prime Minister; Malala Yousafzai, Pakistani activist; to Vikram Chandra, journalist and Vikram Seth, writer, in India.

Essentially, what I am saying is that PPE is objectively one of the best courses any college has to offer for a plethora of reasons. But the reason that appeals the most to me, is that studying these subjects together leads to one gaining a multidimensional view of life, a quality that differentiates ‘leaders’ from the ordinary man.