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What in the WES? An overview of the 2024 edition of the Warwick Economics Summit

by Bradley Barnes (he/him)

20 Feb 2024

Image: Bradley Barnes at the summit

To many University students, summits and conferences might seem like events run by and for elites - utterly inaccessible to us humble undergrads. However, here at the University of Warwick, we are lucky enough to have our very own annual global summit; run by and for the student community at the heart of campus.

Warwick Economics Summit (WES) is the largest fully student run forum in Europe. The conference runs every year in The Oculus and consists of a combination of careers fairs, seminars, panels, debates and keynote speakers. Past attendees include Ursula von der Leyen (Head of the European Commission), Letsie III, the King of Lesotho, and Carlo Cortareli (former Executive Director of the International Monetary Fund). Asides from some impressive speaker line ups, the conference is also accessed by a wide body of students. Many of Warwick’s own attend WES, but the summit’s reach extends far beyond this university. Lillian, a Coordinator for the ERH (External Relations and Hospitality) team had this to say:

“The opportunity to collaborate and exchange with students and professors from around the world has allowed WES to become a truly global summit, with over 200 international delegates arriving for the [summit] weekend!”.

With all this in mind, the conference is a genuinely impressive achievement, and it was my great privilege to be given the chance to cover this year’s edition for PLANorama.

The first thing that strikes you about WES upon arrival is the high standards of professionalism maintained by the students running the conference. When I said my name at the welcome desk the press team instantly knew who I was, handed me a press pass and sent me a comprehensive guide of what was expected of student journalists. I was also given a cute little goody bag with a guide to the conference, lunch vouchers and even a teddy bear! From then on, the conference continued to run like a well-oiled machine. Talks happened on time (more or less), there was a constant supply of caffeine and biscuits to keep us all going and I was surrounded by team members making sure that everyone was where they needed to be.

I was also impressed by the Masters of Ceremonies, who, from their performance and demeanour, I had assumed were brought in from outside the uni. It was a genuine shock to find out they were both WES team members.

The second striking thing about the summit is the quality of what is being offered in terms of speakers and events. WES 2024 included keynote speeches from CEOs and heads of states, panels of central bank governors and even a recorded video address from Gordon Brown, a former UK Prime Minister. It was a truly impressive line-up - and although the high price might be a tough sell for some, you are getting a level of quality you simply won't find elsewhere on campus.

There are also opportunities for delegates to meet these speakers in exclusive ‘Meet The Speaker’ sessions you can apply to in the runup to the conference. I was honoured to be able to meet former Business Secretary and Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Vince Cable, and ask him about how electoral reform might be achieved in the UK. I was fascinated by his answer in which he spoke about the possibility of the Liberal Democrats having decisive votes in a hung parliament situation and making their support conditional on PR (Proportional Representation) being implemented.

Asides from meeting Sir Vince, there were a few other definitive highlights for me in terms of speakers. Stephanie Kelton's talk on rethinking the role of Government spending in the economy is one that will stick with me - asking not how will you pay for it but “how will you resource it, where will the real things come from?”. Her words have captured my curiosity and encouraged me to exit my reading slumber to work my way through my new signed copy of The Deficit Myth.

Another standout was the opening talk from the CEO of the Financial Times (FT), whose insights on the changing media landscape and the role of mainstream publications were genuinely fascinating. I asked him whether there was a risk that as establishment publications moved to a subscription-based model, quality journalism could become locked behind a paywall. Some of his answer is below:

“It's a very fair question [...] we do actually make quite a lot of FT journalism free […] we put out free articles through Google, and through other big tech and social media channels, because we want our journalism to reach lots of people, we quite often make a sector or a subject free for a while. So election coverage, we can make free because we believe that as many people as possible should have access to that journalism”.

I was impressed by his thoughtful answer to what was a somewhat harsh question. I was also quite satisfied with the efforts the FT was making to increase accessibility. However, the prospect of those who are lesser-off lacking access to good reporting does still scare me somewhat.

I'd also like to give a special mention to Mario Centeno, the governor of the bank of Portugal, and Jean-Claude Trichet, the former President of the European Central Bank, who both spoke about monetary policy in a clear and succinct way. As someone who is a little rusty on his knowledge, having not studied economics since Sixth Form, it was very much appreciated.

Another great part of the WES experience is getting to know the other attendees. It was lovely to talk to journalists visiting from other universities and exchange notes on the joys and woes of writing for student publications. It was also a pleasure to work with the conference’s press team – who were lovely throughout. Asides from my immediate cohort, I also had the chance to talk to some other delegates about their experiences at the conference. Warwick Politics, Philosophy and Economics student, Dixon, had this to say about his time at the summit:


WES was a genuinely innovative and bold student-led event. Whilst that may sound cliché, appearances from leading thinkers such as Stephanie Kelton really inspired me to read more on economics and rethink my current assumptions about the world.

So, would I recommend WES?

I would say it depends on who you are and how much you think you will get out of it. If you are interested in economics, or even the social sciences more broadly, and want to gain access to leading figures and policymakers in those fields; WES is the cheapest and best means of doing so as a Warwick student. It is well-organised, well-run and the speakers on offer are of a high calibre. Of course, not all presentations are created equal – but any gaps in quality are small enough to not detract from the overall experience. In terms of PLAN’s members, WES is not a conference which really focuses on queer issues – which isn’t too big of a problem in my eyes, not everything needs to. And personally, I never felt the summit was anything but welcoming to queer participants. Moreover, organisers have shown they are committed to widening the reach of the summit to further inclusivity – and as a result, a number of discounted tickets were offered for Warwick PLAN members this year. So, if you are a PLAN member interested in the social sciences and looking to expand your knowledge or your network, I would look out for a similar deal next year as it is a genuinely great opportunity.

Personally, as a Politics student with a mild interest in economics, I gained an awful lot from attending. If I had any criticism, it would be that sometimes sitting through three or four talks with little break could be overwhelming – but I think this is somewhat unavoidable.

Overall, it was brilliant, and I would recommend next year’s conference, which I’m sure will be just as amazing!

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