Two US academics win economics Nobel

Two American academics have won the Nobel Prize in economics for work that has led to more efficient ways of matching doctors with hospitals and organ donors with transplant patients.

Alvin Roth, George Gund professor of economics and business administration at Harvard University, and Lloyd Shapley, emeritus professor at the University of California Los Angeles, will share the 8 million kroner (£870,000) prize - known officially as the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel - "for the theory of stable allocations and the practice of market design".

According to the Nobel committee, the researchers had independently tackled the "central economic problem" of how to match different agents as efficiently as possible.

Professor Shapley developed "cooperative game theory" in the 1950s and 1960s in order to address how any group of rational individuals with different interests might cooperatively choose allocations.

With the late David Gale, former professor emeritus at the University of California Berkeley, he published a paper illustrating how the method could be applied to pair up a group of men and women such that no couples would separate and form new matches which would make them better off.

Professor Roth confirmed and applied the "Gale-Shapley algorithm" in a series of empirical studies and experiments in the 1980s and 1990s relating to the market for doctors in the US.

The method has also been applied to matching students and high schools, and organ donors and transplant patients.

Times Higher Education spoke to Professor Roth in 2011 about whether the method could even help solve the coalition government's problem of trying to increase the competition for student places among universities.

"Even though these two researchers worked independently of one another, the combination of Shapley's basic theory and Roth's empirical investigations, experiments and practical design has generated a flourishing field of research and improved the performance of many markets. This year's prize is awarded for an outstanding example of economic engineering," the committee said.

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

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