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Unit information: Understanding global problems using data: inequality, climate change and the economy in 2020/21

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Unit name Understanding global problems using data: inequality, climate change and the economy
Unit code UNIV10008
Credit points 20
Level of study C/4
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Birdi
Open unit status Open




School/department Centre for Innovation
Faculty Faculty of Arts


A trailer is available for this unit here.

This unit introduces students to the global economy through a practical based work using global economic data. It develops key data analytical skills and introduces students to basic economic models with an emphasis on models that are applied and policy-oriented. The analysis strongly emphasises three broad themes. These are:

  • sustainability and climate change and the problem of global cooperation;
  • inequality, institutions and policy;
  • the causes and effects of innovation, such as growth and instability.

The unit will develop the skills of basic data literacy, the representation of data, the distinction between causation and correlation, the use of natural experiments, survey and experimental data and other key aspects of a mature understanding of data. The unit also introduces some basic analytical modelling frameworks and tools that economists use to understand the global economy such as game theory, asymmetric information and incomplete contracts. The unit is based around group-based exercises that develop a familiarity with data handling and presentation through Excel. There are no pre-requisites for the unit as it is aimed at students with no prior experience in these areas.

The aims of the unit are:

  • To enable students to understand how economics can contribute to an understanding of global challenges such as inequality, the effects and impact of innovation, and climate change.
  • To develop confidence in the use and understanding of data including the manipulation of economic data using Excel, the presentation of data, types of data, understanding of causation and correlation and the use of natural experiments in economics;
  • To develop confidence in the formulation of well-evidenced and articulate contributions to debates on the policy responses to the major challenges of inequality, innovation and sustainability.
  • To develop basic theoretical frameworks and tools that are used in modern economics to understand the economy, including game theory, asymmetric information and incomplete contracts;

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit, students will

  1. Be able to interpret key economic data such as those often presented in economics media, for example, on GDP, unemployment, growth, inequality, climate change.
  2. Be able to distinguish between causal statements and correlations, and judge whether conclusions based on economic data are justified
  3. Be able to synthesise data analysis and some key economic modelling approaches to articulate evidence-based evaluations of policy in the areas of global inequality, the problem of climate change and innovation, growth and crisis.
  4. Be able to clearly communicate and present data based arguments on policy questions to academic and general public audiences, using multimedia appropriately.
  5. Be familiar with the basic analysis and presentation of economic data using Excel.

Teaching details

The course will be pitched at students with little or no mathematical or data analysis background introduces methods of understanding and analysing real world data related to important contemporary global issues.

The course will be taught in three "blocks" each devoted to one of the following themes: inequality, sustainability, and pandemics. Throughout the course, we will focus on both global problems and their manifestations within Bristol.

For each block a number of multimedia resources will be made available and students will be guided through these resources with help from tutors online. These resources may include videos, audio files, reading lists, spreadsheets, web references, data sets and other learning resources. We use audio podcasts (usually released each week) to orient students around the current work we are doing and how it relates to the world around us.

Students engage with these online resources and then participate in data analysis together with other students and staff during synchronous online workshops. For students unable to attend these sessions, there will be recordings made available and there are also online office hours each week.

Assessment Details

There are two assignments for this unit - one group project and one individual assignment

Assessment 1: Group project worth: 50% Assessment 2: Individual assignment worth 50%

The group assignment involves students producing a multimedia resource such as a video podcast, BBC style news article or a blog article analysing material from blocks 1 and 2 of the course.

The individual assignment will be a written report based on material from the course as a whole.

One of the key assessment criteria for both assessments is how students are able to communicate their analysis appropriately for a target audience.

Reading and References

The main text for the unit will be the freely available CORE online text, Economy, Society and Public Policy based on the original specialist course at

Other useful reading

Acemoglu, D and Robinson, J (2012) Why Nations Fail. The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty. Crown Publishers, New York. Coyle, D. (2014) GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History. Princeton University Press. Seabright, P (2010) The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life. Princeton University Press.