ERSA is a nationally funded programme designed to both broaden the scope of economic research in South Africa, and to deepen its quality in order to ensure greater international exposure of economic research conducted in Southern Africa.
Toward this end ERSA has been mandated by its Board to publish a Working and Policy Paper series, provide financial incentives to researchers to publish their papers in peer reviewed scholarly journals, run a Workshop programme across a range of distinct focus areas in economics, and to provide support to graduate students in economics in Southern Africa.
This report provides a detailed accounting of all our activities. However, it gives me great pleasure to be able to draw your attention to some highlights, and new developments.
The Working and Policy Paper series continues to grow in strength. The number of papers issued in the series has now risen to 530. Approximately 100 papers are appearing in the series each year, while the peer review process that selects the papers that are published referees considerably more contributions. The volume of publication, the width of coverage of sub-fields of economics, and the range of methodologies represented in the ERSA Working and Policy Paper series is unmatched by any other working paper series in Southern Africa.
The success rate of ERSA Working Papers appearing in scholarly journals also continues to rise steadily. The number of published papers has reached 227, of which 158 have appeared in international journals, and 69 in national journals. This continues to reflect the input of our referees in helping to ready papers for peer review in journals, and the quality of the papers that are being published under ERSA’s auspices.
A consistent objective of ERSA has been to ensure that the research that is published under the auspices of its Working and Policy Paper series, receives the full attention of policy makers. However, many of the papers published by ERSA are relatively technical, and continue to become more so due to the demands that academic publishing places on authors. For this reason, during 2014-2015 through consultation with National Treasury and other policy makers, ERSA has started to issue accessible synopses of Working Papers under a Research Brief series, edited by the Policy Associates of ERSA. Currently ERSA is issuing Briefs on the Tuesday of every week, circulated to the full mailing list of ERSA.
Workshop activity continues across all of ERSA’s research groups. During 2014 - 2015, 16 workshops were held, and attendance at the workshops continues to represent a diverse representation of national institutions and demographics. A total of more than 107 institutions, of which 68 were South African, have been represented at ERSA workshops during this reporting period. Total attendance at the Workshops was 449, with 76 attendees coming from policy and government departments, 298 from universities, 45 from the South African private sector and the rest from international institutions.
An innovation of 2013-2014 was the expansion of the Workshop programme to include four new areas: political economy, the economics of finance and banking, economic theory, and empirical methods. All of these areas are now functional, and show considerable promise for future growth, particularly due to the active participation of graduate students from a wide range of national institutions. The intention remains to develop these new research nodes into fully-fledged research groups in due course, and we are confident that this will be successfully accomplished within a short time frame.
During the course of 2015 - 2016, the intention is to pursue the development of an additional node for natural resource economics.
The ERSA Policy Associates have shown continued growth in their research and policy contributions. During their tenure at ERSA they have published 7 journal papers, 14 Working and Policy Papers, presented 13 policy seminars and 28 academic and conference seminars. The Policy Associates are also actively heading the publication of the Policy Brief series, two of the new ERSA Research Nodes are being convened by Policy Associates, and they are leading the training that is being conducted under the ERSA Internship Programme.
Under the ERSA scholarship scheme, 51 scholarships have been awarded to date, 48 for Masters, and 3 for PhD study. During the course of 2014 – 2015, 22 applicants responded to ERSA’s scholarship funding invitation of R80000 for a one year full time Master’s programme in Economics. Of these applications, 10 successful candidates from a diverse range of institutions throughout South Africa were selected and awarded with an ERSA scholarship for 2015. The demographic breakdown of the 10 awardees is as follows: 3 black females, 3 white females, 3 black males and 1 white male.
The Skills Development Initiative continues with the 2nd cohort of 10 delegates, comprised of representatives from the following institutions: University of Fort Hare, Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, University of KZN, University of Limpopo, University of Witwatersrand, Tshwane University of Technology and the University of Johannesburg, who attended their 1st training session on Time Series Econometrics.
Meanwhile the 1st cohort have successfully completed their 2nd training session on Cross-Sectional Techniques in November 2014, with their final workshop on Panel Data Analysis scheduled for later this year.
Feedback from participants at the Skills Development workshops has been extremely positive, and some of the delegates already have developed publication records subsequent to their attendance at the Workshop. The skills obtained should strengthen their capacity in this regard and increase motivation for research and publication of their research ideas.
ERSA’s Internship Programme went ahead as scheduled during June/July 2014. During this period, ERSA hosted 8 interns, 4 from various South African institutions and 4 from the USA. Outputs from the internship included the design of a macroeconomic volatility monitoring programme, covering indices on the SA economy including the exchange rate, the current account, capital account amongst others. This data is available on the ERSA website for registered users.
The ‘Measuring African Institutions Project’ headed by Dr Mare Sarr from UCT, kicked off with the first workshop held in October 2014. West African researchers from Senegal, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria, are collaborating on the development of consistent measures of institutions that have wide geographical coverage, and cover an extended time period, so as to capture distinct institutional dispensations and forms of governance. We anticipate the results from this phase of the project to be public by December 2015. Countries for which such series already exist include Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, and Namibia.
The continued growth and success of ERSA relies on the time, effort, and contributions of many people. While I cannot mention everyone whose contribution deserves recognition, the time commitments of both group convenors (now of 9 groups!) and those who serve in the editorial process of the Working and Policy Paper series are particularly onerous. Those who serve on the Skills Development Committee have contributed both time and their valuable insight into how best to develop a broader and more inclusive academic community in South Africa. The two ERSA Deputy Directors have been bearing a steadily increasing burden over time, covering both a wider and deeper range of activities.
The ERSA Policy Associates have been developing new innovative research directions that are new to South Africa, and have not seen the recognition that its quality and international resonance suggests it deserves. Their patience and determination deserves special acknowledgement.
As always, the ERSA Office team of Gloria Halland, Yoemna Mosaval and Megan Gelderbloem have distinguished themselves by their efficiency and dedication without none of our operations would be feasible. Few users of the ERSA mechanisms are aware of the extent of the logistical and organizational burdens that are placed on their shoulders.
During the course of 2014-2015, the Board of ERSA has been called upon to undertake long and intensive deliberation covering not only its standard oversight functions, but also to consider long-range strategic planning in order to ensure continued growth and success for the second decade of ERSA’s existence. My personal thanks go to all members of the Board, but particularly to the outgoing and new Board Chairs, for the continued guidance and support.
I close with the most important acknowledgement of all. The funding that ERSA has enjoyed from National Treasury continues to deserve the ongoing sincere thanks and recognition of the economics profession in South Africa. Treasury has been exemplary in providing deep structural support to the economics profession in South Africa, without requiring any immediate or direct return on their substantial investment, but in order to deepen the capacity and research quality in economics in South Africa. This is an approach that must be acknowledged for its long-sighted vision and generosity.
There is no doubt in my mind that the strength of research activity in economics in South Africa would be far weaker at present, without the extensive support that National Treasury has extended to the profession over the past 10 years. We look forward to continuing to work with Treasury in pursuing the strategic objectives set out by the ERSA Board.