Why I chose to study economics at SOAS

I grew up painting, and everyone knew I was going to pursue design. In 2020 the pandemic hit, and at the same time, I was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Like COVID-19, it is an airborne disease that can only be controlled through mass vaccination. All of the West has eradicated TB to the extent that people in London think of it as a rare scary disease. This was not the case back home in India, where TB is still endemic.

What COVID-19 taught me about global inequality and 'developing' economies

I witnessed the global response to COVID-19 - which itself highlighted many global inequalities - and the global outrage that there was not enough research and strong institutions to stop the spread. In the face of this, it seemed laughable that after living an extremely privileged life, I still contracted a deadly disease that people across the globe never even thought about. Since it only affects the ‘third world’, research and funding have become abysmal. My anger was channeled into reading books about these inequalities and what ‘developing’ economies meant.

My insulated life had sheltered me from this economic reality, and this is how I became interested in studying economics - to better understand resource allocation. Studying economics at GCSE and A levels was rewarding because I learnt how the world works. But this seemed to be very different from how it should work. By this, I mean that textbook economics was almost exclusively neoliberal - centred around the idea of a free market and efficiency.

Questioning the frameworks and models

The models were created by and limited to the West. Economics was conflated with money making. The decision to study economics at the university level was seeming tenuous - everyone I met assumed I was going to be an investment banker. A teacher who had studied in London told me to look into SOAS, suggesting that I would fit in perfectly. Luckily, I have.

We are taught economics, but all of it. All my introductory classes are still about neoliberal thought because mainstream ideas need to be understood, but no opportunity is missed to remind us that these are just ideas. In recent years the capitalist framework has become naturalised to the point that we cannot imagine an alternative. Every policy point is seen as inevitable instead of a choice. I am just in my first year, so I do not have electives about different countries or alternative schools of thought yet, but the lens I am being taught through is, at every point, trying to decolonise. There is no default. Case studies are global, and it is always lovely to hear my teachers discuss India.

Discrimination lies in data, too

More specifically, I am pursuing a bachelors of science. Therefore my degree is highly quantitative, to the extent that half my modules are mathematics-based. I thought there was no space for discrimination here, but it has been eye-opening to say the least. Even while studying calculus, there are assumptions made in relation to how it applies to economics - which, in my lectures, are constantly questioned. My statistics tutor makes it a point to explain how data is collected differently in various parts of the world, reminding us that there is never a singular correct answer. It is not commonly known here that Indian citizens need a tuberculosis test clearance to even apply for a student visa in the UK. I am glad I deferred my admission and fought the disease instead of going somewhere other than SOAS. It has been worth it.

About the author

Shloka Murarka is a SOAS Digital Ambassador studying BSc Economics. Coming from India, her primary field of interest is in development. She also loves to travel, find her at @shlokapoka on Instagram.