Talking Big Data

‘A Macro Perspective', an event planned and organised by the SIM Economics Society took place on 7 March 2018.


23 May 2018


5 mins

Dr Marco Barassi engaging attendees in the first series of ‘A Macro Perspective'.

‘A Macro Perspective', an event planned and organised by the SIM Economics Society took place on 7 March 2018. The event which is also supported by SIM's Higher Education Division and Student Development Department was birthed with the aim of spreading economic knowledge, among SIM students, through a series of talks and seminars on a broad range of topics: from the Economics of Data to the Economics of Urbanisation or, even, the Economics of streaming music online.

For the first edition of ‘A Macro Perspective', we came to the conclusion that the Economics of Data was a thought-provoking and insightful topic to kick off the series. Director of MSc (Economics) and MSc (International Economics) Singapore programmes at the University of Birmingham, UK, Dr Marco Barassi was the guest speaker at the event. His interests, mainly, lie in the area of time series econometrics, with particular reference to structural changes. He has been a distinguished lecturer of Econometrics at the University of Birmingham since September 2001 and has the unique ability to interpret vast amounts of data, in a relatively simplified manner, to shed light on the economic trends of numerous issues, including but not limited to energy consumption of households in the United Kingdom.

During the session, Dr Barassi used his experiences to draw inferences and distinguish between big data and ultra-high frequency data. He also talked about the transformative property of private sector data as well as unstructured data that could be used to provide a more accurate analysis of events.

He concluded his talk by expressing the importance of understanding data rather than just screening it; hence, he stressed upon the significance of Econometricians in a world that relies on the predictive capacity of models that are created on the basis of data trends.

The event came to a close with Dr Tan, the academic advisor of the SIM Economics Society, presenting Dr Barassi with a token of appreciation.

With the first edition of ‘A Macro Perspective' wrapped up, we look forward to the continued enthusiasm and support shown by the administrative teams at SIM, as well as the student body in the months to come.

For more information on SIM Economics Society events visit:

Director of MSc (Economics) and MSc (International Economics) Singapore programmes at the University of Birmingham, UK, Dr Marco Barassi (pictured above), sat down with Global Edge to talk big data and the importance of the economist. Here's more on what he had to say.

How has the role of the economist evolved in the age of big data?
The focus of economist has changed. Until the 1980s, the great majority of research papers published in top journals- they were theoretical, they were about economic theory. These days, 70% have become empirical papers that use different kinds of data. Whether it is data from the source- be it administrative, governmental, private, survey data, 70% of empirical papers get published in the top journals. So in reality, the economist, is still the economist, it's just the type of interest that has shifted. It's obvious the profession is changing, but we will always change with it.

Big data has become a buzz word in the business sphere. How are tech giants like Facebook and Amazon leveraging on such data?
Big data is being used for advertisements put up on Amazon and Facebook. For example, if I purchase a set of headphones, they will possibly sell me related products like an MP3 player the next time I visit the site. However, there are more complex situations where you will need to understand the behaviour of the consumer. For these situations you will need to understand behavioural economics to know the probability of someone actually purchasing the product. To advertise their products on a certain site, companies will be charged a rate. This rate is determined by the frequency or probability of the purchase. This is where the economist comes in as they are able to interpret data based on frequency and probability.

One of the characteristics of big data is that it is a lot. It's very granular, it's unstructured. So, you need an economist to extract what the variables are and find relevant answers to specific questions. A computer science expert might be able to provide you with the data that you need but you can only interpret it with the help of the economist.

How important will an economic degree be in the workplace of the future?
There will always be demand for people who know economic mechanisms. You can produce statistics for analysing but if you don't know how to interpret the output of your analysis, then it comes to no good use. The economist knows how to set up a model and knows how to interpret the model. When you take up an economics degree at the University of Birmingham, we have modules on applied economics and statistics and mathematical modelling. You will even get to learn programming.

When the lecturer teaches techniques, he/she will provide examples and applications of his/her own research. In the academic profession, writing a book is never going to be as valuable as publishing 10 articles in top academic journals. The researcher who is also a good teacher will bring more value to your degree. Being in such a research-driven university, there is also a high possibility that you will be taught the latest developments in any sub-discipline.

Click to find out more about the SIM-UOB MSc (Economics) and MSc (International Economics) programmes.

Posted online, 23 May 2018