Dean’s Letter: Taking the Pulse of the Nation

In this week's letter, Professor Paul Kofman reflects on the importance of economic research in decision making.

Dear Students,

Some of you might know that I am a Finance academic specialising in Ethics in Finance. I studied Economics and completed my Masters and PhD on topics in International Economics and Trade. From there I took an interest in financial markets, and the rest is history… As for many of my colleagues, we share a keen interest in teaching and researching topics of practical relevance and benefit to our stakeholders and society.

While you might not have come across their academic staff, the Melbourne Institute: Applied Economic & Social Research is our Faculty’s applied socio-economic research department – Australia’s leading applied economic research centre. Economic data analysis and evaluation plays a pivotal role in shaping our social, economic and political policies and in fast moving situations like COVID-19, governments rely on this information to make informed decisions in real-time.

Since early April, our Melbourne Institute has been conducting a weekly ‘Pulse of the Nation’ survey of 1,200 Australians aged 18 years and over. The sample breaks down by gender, age and location to be representative of the entire Australian population. Each week the Institute has been publishing a new report on the survey and it has been fascinating to read the developments in attitudes and behaviours of those surveyed.

Importantly, there has been a strong focus on the mental health of people in the survey. The most recent data shows that 17% of people are suffering from mental stress (feeling depressed or anxious all or most of the time). Interestingly, employees in information media and telecommunications are experiencing the most mental stress at 37%.

Despite the survey showing strong support for the Government’s handling of COVD-19, financial stress in paying for essential goods and services remains at 30% which is significant, and in week three, the survey showed an increase to 44% for high or moderate financial stress in the 18-44 year old age group. If any of you experience financial stress, and feel you need support, consider applying for the University’s Emergency Support Fund.

Given the privacy concerns raised in the media recently, it was surprising to observe in the survey that more than 40 per cent of Australians interviewed say that they are likely to download, or have already downloaded, the COVIDSafe app.

As Professor A. Abigail Payne, Director of the Melbourne Institute, says “We hope that by capturing the real-time social and economic effects of COVID-19 on the Australian population, it will help shape and guide policy and practice as we navigate the next several months.” By keeping policy makers informed, Economists help to ensure policy and its development, is based around need and fact, both never so important than now.

Lastly, while you may have read about the Australian Government’s plans to ease restrictions, the University will continue to comply with public health guidelines and is working on a phased approach to returning to campus which will be gradual. This means there is no immediate change to our operations. Like you, I want to return to campus as soon as possible, but the safety and wellbeing of our students and staff must continue to be our number one priority. The University will continue to keep you informed of any new developments regarding the return to campus.

Stay safe, stay well,


Paul Kofman