Economics matters: wisdom from Professor Ian Harper

10 Oct 2016

“Economics matters to people’s lives” – this was the take-home message at the heart of renowned Australian economist Professor Ian Harper’s guest lecture at UQ last week.

Professor Ian Harper
Professor Ian Harper awed UQ economics students with his honesty and wisdom

UQ Bachelor of Economics (Honours) alumnus Professor Harper delivered the UQ Economics Society’s (UQES) inaugural public lecture to a crowd of enthusiastic students and staff.

Professor Harper discussed the role of economics and the value it can add to students’ careers, whether they work in public policy, the private sector or academia.

“Becoming an economist is a very worthy thing to do,” he said. 

“You need the right tools and motivation and you can go wherever you like.”

According to Professor Harper, the key to success for any budding economist is an economics degree with honours from a top university. 

 “In my experience, my UQ Honours degree has opened a lot of doors. I’ve had a fulfilling and versatile career with opportunities to work on different economic problems.”

Most importantly, Professor Harper emphasised that economics has the power to impact the livelihoods of everyday people.

“For five years I was responsible for setting the minimum wage, and now I’m one of a group of people who set the cash rate,” he said.

“It’s important to consult the people who are affected by the decisions you’ve made or the advice you’ve delivered.”

Professor Harper earned his BEcon (Hons) in 1978 and went on to carve out a distinguished career in academia and consulting.   

Currently, he serves as a board member of the Reserve Bank of Australia and a Senior Advisor to Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu. From March 2014 to March 2015, he led the Harper Competition Policy Review, a “root and branch” review of Australia’s competition policy, laws and regulators.

His previous roles include Chairman of the Australian Fair Pay Commission and partner with Deloitte Access Economics. Prior to his consulting career, he spent 16 years in various academic roles at the Melbourne Business School and was elected Emeritus Professor of the University of Melbourne on his departure.

Professor Harper’s much anticipated return to UQ was organised by UQES Director (Education) Jessica Downing-Ide and UQES President Phillip Womack.

Inspiration struck when Ms Downing-Ide met Professor Harper at the 2015 Australian Conference of Economists in Brisbane.

Nearly a year on, Ms Downing-Ide said she was thrilled to have secured a speaker of his calibre.

“As a successful economics alumnus, I think Professor Harper helped other students see what they can do with an economics degree,” she said.

“It’s really important that students understand the value of investing in their degree and learning more about where it can take them outside of academia.”

Ms Downing-Ide acknowledged Mr Womack and the School of Economics for their assistance in organising the lecture.