Economic development, young minds, regional cooperation and lively debate. This is just an indication of what the South Asian Economics Students Meet (SAESM) is all about. SAESM is one of the few international conferences in South Asia designed expressly for undergraduate students reading for Bachelor’s Degrees in Economics and encourages students to go beyond their textbooks, applying their book learning to pressing development issues in the region.
This is an annual event coordinated and hosted by the Departments of Economics of five leading universities in South Asia: University of Dhaka (Bangladesh), University of Delhi (India), Lahore University of Management Sciences (Pakistan), Tribhuvan University (Nepal) and, University of Colombo (Sri Lanka).
The Department of Economics of the University of Colombo in partnership with the Friedrich-Naumann Foundation (FNF) is making arrangements to hold the 7th SAESM in Colombo in November 2010. The conference is expected to be attended by over 200 undergraduates from Sri Lanka and other South Asian countries.
This will be the second time the conference is being held in Colombo and hosted by the University Colombo. After the initiation of the SAESM in 2004, its annual conferences were held in Delhi, Lahore, Dhaka, Colombo, Delhi and Dhaka, respectively in each year.
Given the high levels of poverty in the region and the importance of economic freedom in combating the problem, this year’s conference theme is ‘Economic Freedom and Poverty Reduction in South Asia’. Whilst the link between rapid growth, poverty reduction and economic freedom is supported by experiences from around the world, South Asia has been slow to take these lessons to the policy table. The conference aims to displace common misconceptions on the topic and highlight its importance by giving students the opportunity to understand and prescribe solutions for key development issues in the region using the concept of economic freedom. The conference papers will be presented under four main themes: Freedom for regional trade, Access to sound money, Security of private property rights, and Regulation of Business.
It is not just a conference. In addition to the presentation of academic papers, SAESM consists of two more competitions: ‘Budding Economist in South Asia’ and Quizonomics contest, together with a site-seeing retreat for foreign students. In these competitions, undergraduates are tested on their knowledge, creativity and soft skills through written, oral and audio-visual evaluations. While directly enhancing knowledge on development in South Asia, SAESM also enables the sharing of experiences, forming of networks, and strengthens regional cooperation among students.
From a Sri Lankan undergraduate’s perspective, SAESM has a lot to offer. To begin with, it provides international exposure. For many of the students, this conference is the first opportunity they have had to write and present academic papers in an international forum. SAESM might also be the path to a first publication, since a compilation of papers presented is published each year.
SAESM allows students to measure themselves against their South Asian counterparts. But more importantly it gives them the chance to make friends from across the region and share experiences ranging from opinions on economic issues to university life in different countries to local cuisine! It is a once in a lifetime opportunity in so many ways and is a wealth of experience for everyone taking part, be it a member of a country team or an organizer. This year’s SAESM promises to keep to the high standard set by previous conferences or (if everything goes according to plan) set the bar even higher.
(The writer is an Organizing Committee Member, University of Colombo of the Colombo conference)