Dr John Minns

Prime Minister’s Award for University Teacher of the Year
Australian Award for University Teaching - Award for Teaching Excellence
ANU Distinguished Educator
School of Politics and International Relations
ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences

A friend of Caribbean background once asked me two, apparently simple, questions: how did it come to be that some countries are rich while others are poor? Secondly, why are many of the rich countries largely populated by people who are white and most of the poor countries by those who are not? Twenty years later I'm still trying to answer. These questions involve an understanding of capitalism, why it developed where and when it did, its uneven spread, the transformation of states into nation-states, the development of global markets and labour markets. You can't even begin to answer them without dealing with the Atlantic slave trade, the development of 'modern' racism and immigration restrictions, the differences between industrial and agricultural production, between wage labour and other forms of work. They are all matters for International Political Economy (IPE) and answering questions like them can also mean envisioning a world that could, perhaps, be different and better. This is what drives my passion for my subject.

And because I teach it through questions such as these, I believe the questions drive my students' enthusiasm to learn as well. I transfer my own excitement in intellectual discovery and in participation in these great debates to those I teach. Many students in the Arts and Social Sciences view with alarm any course with the words 'economy' or 'economics' in the title. Yet my classes remain very large. The first reason is the emphasis in my teaching on contemporary relevance and engagement with the burning issues of our times. My students learn about trade, for example, not from a dry examination of demand and supply curves, but by considering current political questions. Here is a sample question I put to my class for discussion: Conventional advice from the IMF and World Bank to developing countries is to maximise their exports and engage with the world economy - to pursue their comparative advantage. Haiti and the Dominican Republic (the site of the first European settlements in the Americas) have followed this advice since the sixteenth century. They export the bulk of their production (sugar) and import a large part of their consumption, especially manufactured goods. Now they are the poorest countries in the Western hemisphere. Could the IMF be wrong? What do you think?

The question leads to a discussion of concepts such as 'comparative advantage' and the 'terms of trade' - the relative prices of different commodities and why they change over time - i.e. why the price of sugar has fallen relative to the price of machinery. Students soon realise that IPE is not dry - its relevance makes it fascinating as well as important.

A second reason why students learn well in my classes and enjoy them is that I recognise that young lives are packed with exciting visual and auditory experiences, drama and fun, with which teaching delivery must compete. I aim for my presentation to be equally as exciting and engaging through means such as film, music, graphics and crosswords as well as through my own enthusiasm for the subject.

In 2009 I won an AAUT Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning. In 2010 I received both an Australian Award for University Teaching - Award for Teaching Excellence, and the Prime Minister's Award for University Teacher of the Year.