The economics of global challenges

This module equips you with the economic knowledge and skills to analyse and address the most pressing global and social challenges of our time. You’ll be introduced to the core theoretical perspectives that are used in analysing the global challenges and get an understanding of how these perspectives are applied. You’ll be able to assess the policy responses that derive from different perspectives. You’ll also gain a thorough grounding in the contemporary history of economics. The module places an emphasis on the development of core academic, professional and employability skills, which will support progression and prepare you for the dissertation.

Vocational relevance

This module is the first part of our MSc in Economics, which would be suitable if your career aspirations relate to working in a variety of sectors and jobs, including government, business, accountancy, banking, economics, data analysis, insurance and consultancy.


D815 is a compulsory module in our:


Module code


  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
Study level
Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU postgraduate modules correspond to these frameworks.
OU Postgraduate
Study method
Distance learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements

Find out more about entry requirements.

What you will study

The core content of this module will be organised around five key global challenges, with each block engaging with one global challenge:

Block 1 – Understanding Economic Crises
This introductory block will begin to scope the character of multiple economic crises that have occurred over the past century, and the mainstream economic theories of economic crises and the policy responses these have informed. The block will also explore the question of how economies might recover from crises by emphasising the systemic nature and historical specificity of crises as well as the interrelation between economic, social and environmental crises. Issues including the mediation of global capital accumulation by the global financial system; the role of actors and institutions in relation to structural change; and how different economic organisations might result in more sustainable and less crisis-prone societies will be explored.

Block 2 – Global Inequalities
The second block focuses on global inequalities, in particular those between countries. The block commences with a discussion of the key contemporary empirical aspects of global inequalities that will be unpacked across the block. This includes a critical assessment of the convergence/divergence hypotheses and other core elements such as the global division of labour to investigate the reconfiguration of global circuits of production, national income levels and welfare regimes and patterns of consumption. Following this will be a discussion of the history of industrialisation, which will incorporate an assessment of this process across both time and space. The block will then address current economic approaches applied to the ways that countries interact and that frame the nature of global economic relations, and how these shape patterns of inequalities, including competing perspectives on the role of international trade, global value chains, and global economic governance.

Block 3 – Social Inequalities
This block starts by examining different types of inequality and how they manifest within countries (e.g., income, savings, participation in social life, health, education) across different dimensions (gender, age, class, race, disability). It will analyse data from around the world (balancing between high-income and low-income countries) to map social inequalities. The block will then explain the forming of inequality, its pervasiveness and its path dependency and cumulative effect over the life-course. The third part of the block examines policy interventions to tackle inequalities, their relative merits and some perverse effects spanning from tax and benefit policies to the less-well documented impacts of industrial and monetary policy.

Block 4 – The Economics of Health
This block focuses on the way that different economic perspectives are applied to the issue of health, and in particular, health inequalities between and within countries. The block commences with a brief introduction to the social gradient with respect to most (in fact, almost all) health outcomes, an overview of the social determinants of health. Following this, the block looks at how health-related behaviour is modelled through the application of neoclassical consumer theory and, behavioural approaches that seek to incentivise or provide nudges towards positive health-related decisions. The block will then move away from more micro/individualistic perspectives to systemic approaches that engage with how health inequalities are produced and reproduced. The block will also critically engage with the role of broader macro-level process (such as neoliberalism) and different actors in shaping responses to health issues. Finally, the block will cover the standard mainstream Health Economics literature with a focus on Cost-Benefit-Analyses that are used to evaluate competing health interventions.

Block 5 – The Economics of the Environment
The final block will focus on the economics of the environment. It draws methods and theories from various economic perspectives that study the environment: environmental economics, ecological economics, natural resource economics and political economy. It will cover how economists understand and analyse environmental issues, such as climate change, water scarcity and pollution. This includes ideas from microeconomics, such as public goods, social choice, Pareto efficiency and externalities. It will also address alternative understandings of drivers of environmental problems from macroeconomics, such as debates around the role of economic growth, planetary boundaries and environmental destruction.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You will be assigned a tutor and part of a tutorial group. The bulk of the tuition will be delivered online with some additional phone or email support. There will also be live webinars with each central academic block lead.

There will also be a day school open to all students. This is likely to include sessions around research methods, careers, and personal development planning, as well as sessions that engage with module-specific content. The module team will also work to ensure that the day school is also a hybrid event.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box.

Course work includes

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment

Future availability

The economics of global challenges starts once a year. This page describes the module that will start for the first time in October 2024; in subsequent years, it will start in September. We expect it to start for the last time in September 2035.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

Entry requirements

You must have an undergraduate honours degree. A degree in Economics or a very closely related subject, or an undergraduate degree and our Economics Diploma or significant professional experience, is strongly recommended. If your degree is not in Economics, you will be required to show some knowledge of the subject and the study skills expected of a graduate in this field. You should be aware that a degree of at least 2.1 or equivalent will greatly increase your chances of successfully completing the MSc. Whilst the MSc in Economics will be taught in a pluralist way, please note that this will include coverage of mainstream quantitative methods and techniques.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

Preparatory work

In preparation for this module, you could consult the following books:

  • Ha-Joon Chang, Economics: The User’s Guide: A Pelican Introduction
  • Kate Raworth, Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a Twenty-first Century Economist
  • Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why Equality is Better for Everyone
  • Tim Harford, The Logic of Life

To familiarise you with the requirements and demands of postgraduate study, the OpenLearn course Succeeding in postgraduate study has been designed to develop the skills and confidence to pursue your learning further.


Start End England fee Register
05 Oct 2024 Jul 2025 £4650.00

Registration closes 12/09/24 (places subject to availability)

This module is expected to start for the last time in September 2035.

Future availability

The economics of global challenges starts once a year. This page describes the module that will start for the first time in October 2024; in subsequent years, it will start in September. We expect it to start for the last time in September 2035.

Additional costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

Ways to pay for this module

We know there’s a lot to think about when choosing to study, not least how much it’s going to cost and how you can pay.

That’s why we keep our fees as low as possible and offer a range of flexible payment and funding options, including a postgraduate loan, if you study this module as part of an eligible qualification. To find out more, see Fees and funding.

Study materials

What's included

You'll have access to a module website which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • online resources and activities
  • audio and video materials
  • interviews with leading experts
  • directed further readings
  • assessment guide
  • online forums.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

If you have a disability

We will offer support for students with a range of disabilities. This includes offering alternative module material and assessment formats where necessary.

To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our disability support pages.

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