Annual Report 2015

Director’s Statement

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 an overview of our activities, which are detailed in the remainder of the annual report.

Two significant developments during 2015/16 were the completion and presentation of the second independent external review, and a set of discussions surrounding the future strategic direction of ERSA’s activities, specifically the mandate of the ERSA programme.

The external review was comprehensive, and employed a methodology that allowed users and donors of ERSA to provide feedback both through survey responses, and through direct personal interviews. The external review is available online on the ERSA website. Pleasing is the strong expression of support of the quality and usefulness of the ERSA programmes by their users.

Since the principal donor of ERSA expressed the need for more policy directed output and programmes, the board of ERSA initiated a consideration of the strategic priorities of ERSA, particularly surrounding the workshop activity of ERSA. At present this discussion is still ongoing, and awaits finalization.

What follows covers the historical legacy programmes of ERSA.

The Working and Policy Paper series has grown to a total of 612 published papers. Approximately 100 papers are appearing in the series each year, while the peer review process that selects the papers for publication 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 272 (a 44% publication rate – high for any working paper series), of which 182 have appeared in international journals, and 90 in national journals. The high publication rate of the Working Paper series reflects the quality of referee input in helping to ready papers for peer review in journals, as well as the quality of the papers that are being published under ERSA’s auspices.

The success of the Working & Policy Paper series is also evidenced in the number of downloads of papers from our website. The downloads has moved from 58,626 in 2013, to 103,281 in 2014, 79,627 in 2015, to 39,611 in the first 5 months of 2016. This is well above any other working paper series that is published in Southern Africa.

An additional feature of the Working Paper series is that it now consistently represents an important starting point for publications of emerging young faculty and graduate students. The feedback from the refereeing is clearly helping in preparing papers for journal submission, and improving the likelihood of acceptance of the papers by journals.

A consistent objective of ERSA has been to ensure that the research that it publishes has a policy impact. Toward this end, since 2015 ERSA has published a Research Brief series, issued once a week (though the series existed in more infrequent issues since 2013). This presents summary results from research, in concise and non-technical form. The series is circulated to the full ERSA database of email contacts, and is published on the website and by social media. Over the period to the close of the financial year, a total of 61 Research Briefs have been circulated.

As for the Working and Policy Paper series, downloads of the Research Briefs from the ERSA website attests to their success. Downloads have risen from 1,105 in 2013, to 2,143 in 2014, 2,818 in 2015, to 1,612 in the first 5 months of 2016. Since the Research Briefs are circulated in full to the ERSA mailing list, downloads will reflect a fraction of the total number of reads of the series.

Workshop activity continued across all of ERSA’s research groups. During 2015-2016, 14 workshops were held, and attendance at the workshops continues to represent a diverse representation of national institutions and demographics. A total of more than 89 institutions, of which 55 were South African, have been represented at ERSA workshops during this reporting period. Total attendance at the Workshops was 365, with 65 attendees coming from policy and government departments (18% of the total), 275 from universities, and 25 from the private sector.

The ERSA Policy Associates, during their three year tenure at ERSA have published 11 journal papers, 17 Working and Policy Papers, presented 14 policy seminars and 43 academic and conference seminars. The Policy Associates are also actively contributing to the publication of the Policy Brief series, two of the new ERSA Research Nodes were convened by Policy Associates, and they are led the training that is being conducted under the ERSA Internship Programme.

The two incumbent full-time Policy associates have concluded their contract with ERSA. That Biniam Bedasso is moving on to a fellowship with Princeton and Oxford, and Nonso Obikili has accepted a position with the African Heritage Institution, the premier Nigerian policy think tank headed by the former Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Prof. Charles Soludo, is clear testament to the quality of the work that the Policy Associates have delivered over their tenure with ERSA. We congratulate them, wish them well in their future career, and will follow their development with interest.

Under the ERSA scholarship scheme, a total of 55 scholarships have been awarded to date, 52 for Masters, and 3 for PhD study. During the course of 2015 – 2016, 27 applicants responded to ERSA’s scholarship funding invitation of R80000 for a one year full time Master’s programme in Economics. Of these applications, 9 successful candidates from a diverse range of institutions throughout South Africa were selected and awarded with an ERSA scholarship for 2016. The demographic breakdown of the 9 awardees is as follows: 1 black female, 1 white female, 3 black males and 4 white male.

The Skills Development Initiative, which is aimed at raising the technical skills of young faculty members for an active research career, continues with the final workshop on Panel Data Analysis for the 2nd cohort scheduled for May 2016, and a call sent out for applications for a new cohort (3rd) to attend the first training session on Time Series Techniques scheduled for early November 2016.

Meanwhile the 1st cohort successfully completed their 3rd and final training session on Cross-Sectional Techniques in November 2015.

Feedback from participants at the Skills Development workshops continues to be  extremely positive. Delegates are proving successful in developing publication activity after workshop attendance, both in terms of working paper and journal paper production. 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 July 2015.  During this period, ERSA hosted 6 interns, all from different South African institutions from around the country. The internship programme has proved to be a valuable tool for interns to gain experience.  As a direct result of the internship programme one of our interns has now started a PhD at the University of Cape Town under the supervision of ERSA Policy Associate Co-Pierre Georg.

The Measuring Institutions Project headed by Dr Mare Sarr from UCT, continued with the second meeting held in November 2015 in Cape Town, followed by the 3rd meeting which took the form of a 2-day training session held in January 2016 for a comparative Latin American case study, supplied by Chile. Researchers from Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal 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 June 2016 for Côte d’Ivoire et Ghana. The Senegal case study is currently experiencing delays in the external validation stage. Countries for which such series already exist include South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia, and more recently Nigeria and Kenya.

Noteworthy is that ERSA has received strongly positive and congratulatory feedback from the IMF regarding the innovativeness and rigour of the institutional measures, and I am pleased to note that the IMF has indicated an intent to employ the measures in its work.

As always, ERSA has benefited from the time, effort, and contributions of many people, particularly the research group convenors, and those who serve in the editorial process of the Working and Policy Paper series. Members of the Skills Development Committee have continued to work at generating a broader and more inclusive academic community in South Africa. Both ERSA Deputy Directors have been also borne a substantial burden on their time, particularly surrounding the strategic review of ERSA.

Once again, 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.

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.

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 11 years. We look forward to continuing to work with Treasury in pursuing the strategic objectives set out by the ERSA Board.