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Annual Report 2008

27 September 2008

Director’s Statement

For ERSA the 2007/2008 year was one of substantial growth.

Not only have the traditional areas of activity of ERSA grown substantially in terms of both scope and depth, but a range of new initiatives have added to the intellectual span of ERSA.

Perhaps most importantly the ERSA Working and Paper Series have seen significant improvement during the course of 2007. The number of submissions received by ERSA under the two papers series has increased substantially, with a growing range of academic institutions in South Africa submitting papers for review.

The result of this increase has been a growth in the intensity and frequency with which the reviewing of papers has had to be conducted. Hence the editorial panel of ERSA has now been expanded to four (the Director and three Deputy Directors of ERSA), who conduct weekly teleconferences to discuss, monitor and process submissions. In addition, the editorial panel of ERSA has been able to draw on the refereeing expertise of a wide range of experts both nationally, and internationally. As a result, I believe that the quality of feedback to authors has improved substantially. While the impact of this improvement remains to be seen over a longer run, the editorial panel hopes that the quality of journals in which the work of South African economists appears will improve also – with top level journals being the main target for ERSA Working and Policy papers.

Toward the end of realising top-end publications, the ERSA incentives around the Working Paper Series explicitly incentivise publication in high end journals. Details of the mechanism can be found in the section of this report which deals with the Working Papers, while an appendix provides more comprehensive information about the individual papers that have appeared in the ERSA series to date.

While ERSA is still monitoring the publication rate of its paper series, one indication that this incentive is having the desired effect is that of the 68 Working Papers and 11 Policy Papers published by ERSA to date, 15 have already been published or accepted by international journals, 9 by South African journals, and 2 have appeared as book chapters. There is thus not only a high publication success rate of 33% from the ERSA paper series, but of the published papers international publications 63% are appearing in international journals, including in the top 30 journals in economics. In addition, of the remaining papers, the overwhelming preponderance is under review primarily in international, but also local journals.

It is therefore appropriate to attach some confidence to the expectation that the net effect of the ERSA paper series will be to raise the publication intensity of Southern African based economists in terms of quantity, but far more importantly, in terms of quality.

Workshop activity under the ERSA banner has also increased dramatically during 2007. A total of nine workshops were hosted by ERSA, covering a wider range of topics in economics than was previously the case. The traditional strengths of ERSA in macroeconomics and growth, as well as labour poverty and inequality were supplemented by new departures in industrial organization, data issues, economic history, as well as new training workshops in policy and programme evaluation.

A particularly valuable feature of the workshop programme of ERSA continues to be a strong presence of leading international economists at the workshops. The consequence is a raising of the breadth and standard of the debate in economics in South Africa, with immediate accessibility of the international leading edge in the focus area under examination.

During 2007 a particular feature of the international participation has been a strong presence of the workshops of members of the international panel of experts invited by National Treasury and the Presidency to review the ASGISA growth policy framework. During 2007 three of the international panel of experts participated in ERSA workshops. During 2008, this pattern looks set to continue, not least through research collaboration between members of the panel and South African based economists, which is being facilitated through ERSA.

International attendance at ERSA workshops has come from the London School of Economics, Harvard, Michigan, Oxford, Wisconsin, Goteborg and Vienna amongst other institutions.

What has continued to be particularly pleasing has been the wide array of institutions from which participation at the workshops has been drawn. A total of 24 different South African institutions have participated in the ERSA workshops, covering academic, private sector and policy making bodies. In addition, a number of institutions that have historically not been centrally
involved in national debates in economics have participated not only strongly in individual workshops, but have shown a persistent repeat attendance at the ERSA workshops. The section of this report that covers the workshop activity of ERSA provides more detail, while an appendix provides detailed information about the content of the individual workshops held under the ERSA banner.

Three new initiatives have been launched through ERSA during the course of 2007. For ERSA to become sustainable through wide spread ownership of its scholarly and intellectual activity, it is imperative that there is wide-spread participation in defining suitable topics for the workshop series that ERSA hosts. To provide such a wider base of participation in the setting of the research agenda of ERSA, during 2007 ERSA affiliates were introduced for the first time. The model was provided by the National Bureau of Economic Research in the USA, and the Centre for Economic and Policy Research in Western Europe. Affiliates were identified by Academic Board as amongst the leading researchers in three core areas in which Academic Board had identified a critical mass of researchers to be present in South Africa. Affiliates are intended to provide the research and scholarly leadership in the three research areas, particularly in defining a research and training agenda for the groups, and in acting so as to be inclusive of all researchers in the area, and in drawing in promising graduate students into the national and international debates.

Since the affiliate mechanism is new to South Africa, it has taken a little time to take root. However, particularly in the Macroeconomics & Growth and Trade & Industrial Organization research groups, the participation of affiliates has been active, and a strong research agenda has emerged. Common across all three groupings has been the emergence of a clearly defined work agenda centred on a series of three annual workshops to be hosted by each of the three research groupings.

Also as a new initiative has been the provision of support by ERSA to the African Econometric Society. For the 2007 conference of the society, ERSA provided funding for a keynote speaker, as well as support for the attendance at the conference for scholars who did not have adequate financial support from their home institutions. Given that the conference of the AES is arguably the premier regional conference in the field of economics in terms of the quality of papers presented, and the international profile of the conference, the support provides a useful extension to the support mechanisms that ERSA provides to scholars in economics in the region.

Added to the already existent support that ERSA provides to the Economic Society of South Africa for the publication of its journals, ERSA has thus effectively extended its institutional support for other professional societies. From the side of ERSA, it is hoped that this institutional association with both societies can continue.

ERSA has also taken a first step toward providing support to students. During 2007 ERSA introduced a range of ERSA prizes for study in economics. While of very limited financial consequence, the prizes provide departments of economics with the ability to reward and recognize outstanding performance by their students, as a way to provide encouragement for continued study in economics.

Finally, the wide ranging activities of ERSA have relied on the input of a wide range of individuals. Members of Academic Board have given a large number of days pro bono, in order to help define the focus and the mechanisms by which ERSA conducts its business. The three Deputy Directors similarly have provided substantial input not only into the editorial processes of ERSA, but also sustained substantive direction to the development of the research groups that have come to emerge under the ERSA banner. While the affiliate structure of ERSA is new, it is already clear that already a substantial burden of activity is coming to vest in them.

Perhaps most importantly of all, since all of the ERSA activities, including the planning and logistical realization of the paper series, workshops, international visitors, research group activity and the administration of the day-to-day functioning of ERSA rests with a single administrator, Gloria Halland deserves explicit recognition for her tireless contribution to the activities and wellbeing of ERSA.

Certainly as Director my job would not have been possible without the contributions of all of these individuals, and my sincere thanks goes to them all.

Johannes Fedderke

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