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WES Exclusive: Warwick Economics Summit through the ages

Updated: Oct 12, 2021

As we approach the 18th edition of the Warwick Economics Summit, let’s take a look back at the history of this conference and see how it has grown to become one of the largest of its kind in Europe.

Over the years, WES has grown in form and stature to become what it is today: a student-led conference occurring over the course of three days, attended by 500 students from across the world, with a diverse range of talks, speakers, seminars, panels, and even a Ball!

However, it has taken many years of work, dedication and passion by scores of Warwick students, with the support of the university, to get it to where it is today.

The Summit first occurred in January of 2002, with 170 students in attendance. Even then, it was the first ever inter-university undergraduate economics event in the UK. By 2004, the number of attendees had increased to 300. The year after, in 2005, the Summit sold out at 500 students – the same number that attends it today, 14 years later. It was a very big year for the Summit in establishing its presence, with more than 1000 students on the waiting list for tickets. It was the year WES welcomed Professor John Nash, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics for his groundbreaking contributions to the subject, that have now become essential parts of basic economic theory. Subsequently, the number of external delegates from different parts of the world increased every year. This was especially true in 2012 when WES launched the Warwick Economics Summit Bursary Scheme, which financially aided students with demonstrable academic merit and financial need to attend the Summit. That year, bursary students attended from the University of Cambridge, Harvard University and the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur.

It is fascinating to see how each year, the Summit has reflected the global concerns and debates of its time, evolving with the world around it and becoming a valuable forum.

The world was reeling in the aftermath of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks and was left grappling with its implications. Aptly, 5 months later, the theme of the first-ever Summit was ‘No longer inevitable? The future of the World Economy after September 11th'. Similarly, in the years following the 2008 financial crisis, WES saw a more specialised focus on talks which had themes related to monetary policy, debt reduction and understanding the causes and impacts of the crisis. By featuring relevant central bankers, policymakers and economists, WES occupied a unique place at the forefront of the news cycle. For instance, in 2010, the Summit hosted Alastair Darling, who at the time, was the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the Labour government in power. He spoke of their commitment to reducing the deficit, and his speech made national news due to the upcoming general election. WES2010 also featured Fred Harrison, who is famous for being the first economist to have predicted the global financial crisis, having laid it out in his work as early as 1997.

In 2012, we had George Akerlof- another Nobel Laureate in Economics- speaking about his research on behavioural economics- a relatively new area of study in the subject and one which is still seeing novel advancements. The same year saw talks focusing on a range of issues, from the Greek and Euro crisis to the role of the WTO in an era of increased globalisation and trade disputes.

Sir Partha Dasgupta at WES2015

As the years have progressed, we have seen a notable shift in the diversity of speakers and the areas they focus their talks on. With rising international discourse over the dilemma of development vs growth and even more recently, the role of sustainability, we have had standout speakers giving their expert opinions on this issue. Sir Partha Dasgupta (a renowned economist in the field of welfare and development economics) spoke at WES2015, while Jeffrey Sachs, one of the world’s leading experts on sustainable development, addressed students at WES2017. In 2018, Laurence Tubiana, a key architect of the pivotal Paris Climate Agreement spoke about the ramifications of the USA’s withdrawal and how to pave the way forward in wake of that devastating political decision. Human rights, freedom and revolution in the Middle East was also a topic of conversation at the 2018 Summit due to speaker Tawakkol Karman, who is a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Yemeni journalist.

In more recent years, the Summit has seen a particular focus on the analysis of the global rise in populist sentiments, Brexit, and the 2016 US presidential elections. Notably, 2017 saw an address by Stanley Fischer, who at the time, was Vice-Chair of the Federal Reserve. Mr Fischer spoke at the Summit a few weeks into US President Donald Trump’s presidency and gave the raptured audience an insight into the future of the American economy after the unprecedented election.

Stanley Fischer at WES2017

With 18 years of exceptional speakers, passionate delegates and a dedicated team which is constantly evolving, it’s exciting to think about what WES2019 and beyond holds in store for us!

"The success of Warwick Economics Summit is a testament to the hard work of the students who run it. I'm not sure I was that proactive when I was studying economics, but congratulations!" - David Cameron, Former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

Tulika Jain


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