School of Economics

The age of expansion

The Faculty of Social Sciences was created out of a group of Departments in Arts in 1963. At that time, political economy became a department at last separate from moral philosophy. In 1966 the new department acquired its new title, 'Department of Economics'.

Alexander John 'Sandy' Youngson (1918-2004)

The present phase of the department's development, from 1962 onwards, coincides with the translation of Alexander John 'Sandy' Youngson from the chair of Economic History. The son of a medical missionary to the Punjab, Youngson was educated at Aberdeen University and, after service as a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm in the Second World War, he rapidly became a senior lecturer at St Andrews University 1948-50, a lecturer at Cambridge University 1950-8 and a fellow of Emmanuel College, before becoming Edinburgh's first professor of economic history in 1958-62.

Youngson excelled in the three tasks of a professor: he was a swift administrator who could conduct even a faculty meeting in an hour and make decisions at a breath-taking rate; he was a lecturer unsurpassed in the Faculty; and he was the most prolific author in the Department since Nicholson.

His Aberdeen DLitt thesis title "The Scots Coal Industry" (1953) was distinguished by the depth of its analysis, especially his application of trade cycle theory. In subsequent books, "Possibilities of Economic Progress" (1959), "The British Economy 1920-57" (1960), "Overhead Capital: A Study in Development Economics" (1967) and "After the Forty-five" (1973), he used an historical perspective to analyze economic growth and development. His other books include his celebrated "The Making of Classical Edinburgh" (1966).

Youngson served as Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences in 1968-70 and Vice-Principal of the University in 1971-74, before becoming Director of the Australian National University in 1974-80 and Professor of Economics in Hong Kong in 1980-82.

The severe cuts in university funding in the 1970s prevented the Merchant company chair being filled after the departure of Youngson.

James Nathan 'Nat' Wolfe (1927-1988)

It was not until 1964 that the department acquired a second established chair. James Nathan 'Nat' Wolfe (1927-88) was appointed, remaining in office until 1984 when blindness and several other illnesses forced him into early retirement.

Wolfe trained as an economist at McGill and Oxford universities before lecturing at the University of Toronto and holding a chair at the University of California, Santa Barbara. With great enthusiasm he brought to the department the approach of a Canadian academic.

A postgraduate programme was revitalised: he supervised 45 postgraduates, 25 of them gaining PhDs, in fifteen years. He gained research contracts to set up teams to investigate subjects as diverse as technical information systems, the finances of the Church of Scotland and the regional problems of the Scottish Borders. He was also an economic consultant, including to the Secretary of State for Scotland during the period 1965-72.

His early writing had been on federal finance, Marshall and the theory of the firm; later his interests broadened to include Scottish nationalism and the economics of science.

Ian Stewart (1923- )

When Youngson was promoted to a vice-principalship in 1971, Ian Stewart became head of department. Stewart, a contemporary of Alan Peacock's at St Andrews, had acquired a reputation for his work on national income accounting and input-output analysis at the Department of Applied Economics in Cambridge, before coming to Edinburgh in 1957. He was quickly promoted to a senior lectureship in 1958, a readership in 1962 and to a personal chair in 1967.

Until his early retirement in 1984, Ian Stewart was head of department, as well as serving as the Dean of Social Sciences in the period 1977-80. It was a period of tight funding and much illness amongst the staff, including the death in 1977 of Henry Ord, a development economist who had served as economic adviser to Malawi.

Peter Vandome (1930- )

After Stewart, Peter Vandome, professor of econometrics, headed the department during the period 1983-86. Vandome had been a senior research officer at Oxford University's Institute of Economics and Statistics, associated there with Laurence Klein's econometric model of the UK economy, before coming to Edinburgh as a senior lecturer in 1966 and being promoted to a personal chair the following year.

Vandome became disillusioned with econometrics and, partly because of being asked to lecture on Capital and Growth theories, he turned to Marxism, teaching courses on that subject until his eventual retirement in 1995.

Curriculum Changes

As the Faculty of Social Sciences was beginning to provide its students with more choice in both their second year and honours courses, the MA degrees were still in need of considerable reform.

It was particularly important that all of our graduates left with thorough and up-to-date training in economics, and attention was subsequently paid to the establishment of core subjects which would feature in the curriculum of all Economics degrees.

The 'core' which was established in 1988 and which was subsequently used for 18 years, consisted of:

  • a progression of microeconomics and macroeconomics courses over three years
  • compulsory courses in quantitative techniques and quantitative economics (for single honours students)
  • a dissertation of 10,000 words

Stuart Sayer, who was head of department from 2000-2008, introduced many educational innovations:

  • senior students to provide help desks for first year students
  • varied forms of assessment, including the group presentation of posters
  • the expansion of the core of undergraduate degrees

From 2006, single and joint Honours MA degrees have had a progression of courses from:

  • Economics 1A
  • Economics 2
  • Issues in Global Economics
  • Essentials of Econometrics

The small-scale economics postgraduate teaching, which was typical of Scottish universities, was replaced in 1989 by participation in the Scottish Doctoral Programme, which is now called the Scottish Graduate Programme in Economics. The SGPE consists of a year of courses taught by staff of the eight contributing Scottish universities, and leads to an MSc (Econ).

About 75 students graduate from this programme annually.

However the immense expansion in undergraduate numbers in the 1990s was not matched by a proportionate increase in the number of staff.

Staff changes

From 1990 Economics experienced much rotation in the occupation of chairs and short term stays of lecturers.

Gavin Reid

Gavin Reid was appointed lecturer in 1971, specialising in the theory of the firm and the history of economic thought, before in 1991 he moved to a chair at St Andrews and directorship of the Centre for Research into Industry, Enterprise, Finance and the Firm.

Brian Main

Brian Main was first appointed here in 1976 as a lecturer, before he spent 1987-1991 as professor and head of department at St Andrews, after which he returned to Edinburgh in order to take up the second established chair, previously held by Nat Wolfe, and be head of department from 1991-1993 and 1995-1997. In 2000 he moved to Edinburgh University’s Business Studies department.

Les Oxley

Les Oxley was originally appointed a lecturer in 1979, emigrated to New Zealand in 1995 to hold chairs in Waikato then Canterbury. In 1987, along with his fellow lecturers Donald George, Colin Roberts and Stuart Sayer, he was a founder and editor of the Journal of Economic Surveys.

Gordon Hughes

In 1985 Gordon Hughes, fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge was appointed George Watson’s and Daniel Stewart’s Professor of Political Economy, while also working as head of the department.

Hughes brought immense energy to the department. Reviving the tradition of the Scottish Professor, he gave all the lectures of Economics 1, and, like many of his predecessors, modernised the curriculum. His wide interests in public economics and natural resources economics enriched the teaching of the department, as well as the breadth of its publications.

Gordon Hughes left the department in 1991 to become Senior Advisor in Environmental Policy at the World Bank. He returned in 1995, however, as a part-time professor, and taught courses on natural resources and on public economics.

George Norman

George Norman was here as a professor 1993-1995 and served as head of department before emigrating to Tufts University.

George Evans

George Evans held the senior chair 1993-1994 before moving to the University of Oregon.

Gary Koop

Gary Koop was successor to Evans 1996-2000 before sequentially holding chairs at Glasgow, Leicester and Strathclyde.

He was noted as head of department for his conviviality and for introducing a new quantitative course to the core of undergraduate honours teaching, the Analysis of Economic Data.

Mark Steel

Mark Steel held a chair 1998-2000 before moving to the University of Kent.

Yongcheol Shin

Yongcheol Shin arrived in 1998 as a lecturer and was promoted to a readership before departing in 2004 for a chair at Leeds.

Emi Mise

Emi Mise lectured at Edinburgh from 2001 before transferring to Leicester two years later.

Roger Sugden

Another member of staff who made a not to be forgotten contribution to Economics at Edinburgh was Roger Sugden - a lecturer from 1984 to 1990 - who rose to be professor of commerce at Birmingham University before his appointment as Director of the Stirling Management School in 2009.

Godfrey Keller

Godfrey Keller lectured here 1994-1995 and is now a fellow of Hertford College in Oxford, while also working as a professor of microeconomic theory.

Maria Vagliasindi

Maria Vagliasindi was a lecturer at Edinburgh from 1996-1998 before she moved to the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Carmen Matutes

Carmen Matutes, the wife of Joszef Sakovics, was a reader here from 2000-2002 before she retired to become a prize-winning fiction writer.

Stephane Straub

Stephane Straub was a lecturer at Edinburgh from 2003-08 before he returned to Toulouse, where he had undertaken a PhD.

Internal staff changes

As a relatively small school, internal promotions have expanded the professoriate.

Many professors were awarded personal chairs:

  • Martin Fransman in 1986
  • Andy Snell in 2003
  • József Sákovics in 2003
  • Ed Hopkins in 2005
  • Stuart Sayer in 2008


The School of Economics has built up an eminent group of economic theorists led by John Hardman Moore, who was previously a visiting professor at the University. From 2001 he has been George Watson's and Daniel Stewart's Professor of Political Economy.

The Scottish Institute for Research in Economics


In 2007 SIRE (The Scottish Institute for Research in Economics) was founded with John Hardman Moore as Director and Stuart Sayer as Executive Director. SIRE's administrative HQ was in Edinburgh, in addition to one of its three thematic programmes: Behaviour, Incentives and Contracts. The other two programmes,  Work and Wellbeing (WWB) and Macroeconomics, Financial Linkages and the Regions (MFLR)  were based at the University of Stirling and The University of Glasgow  respectively.

With funding of £21m over seven years, this major initiative between eight Scottish universities has allowed Edinburgh to increase the size of its academic staff.

New appointments have included:

  • Olga Gorbachev
  • Maia Güell
  • Kohei Kawamura
  • Tatiana Kornienko
  • José V. Rodríguez Mora
  • Dimitra Politi
  • Anikó Bíró
  • Robert Zymek
  • Mike Elsby
  • Philipp Kircher
  • Michèle Belot

All the Scottish Funding Council reports (1-8) for the period 2007 to 2014,  in addition to the final report published in 2016, are available from this web page

The School of Economics

Students on steps outside School of Economics building

The Faculty of Social Sciences, of which Economics was a department, ceased to exist in 2002 when the University was reorganised into three large colleges and subordinate schools.

From being a subject area within the School of Management and Economics, Economics has become a separate school on 1 August 2009.

After forty years in the thin-walled 1960s’ William Robertson Building, George Square, Economics moved in August 2008 to the solid 1820s’ elegance of 31 Buccleuch Place.

In 2012, the School expanded and the administrative offices now occupy 30 Buccleuch Place.