ERSA is a national programme designed to both broaden the scope of economic research in Southern Africa, and to deepen its quality in order to ensure greater international exposure of economic research conducted in Southern Africa.
The funding relationship between the South African National Treasury and ERSA, which lasted from 2005 to 2018, came to an end in February 2018. While regrettable, the steady and sustained support of Treasury was critical in allowing ERSA to build and expand its programmes. The community of researchers in economics in South Africa owe the Treasury a considerable burden of debt for the unstinting and largely unconditional support provided over a long period of time. The withdrawal of the annual financial transfer from Treasury meant that ERSA programmes had to be maintained on
the basis of financial reserves that the Board had accumulated against this and other contingencies.
In response to the loss of Treasury financing, the Board tasked some of its members as well as the Executive to pursue alternative sources of financing, while also preparing for an orderly transition to winding up ERSA in the event that no further funding could be sourced. Fortunately, the search for a new donor proved successful. The South African Reserve Bank has committed to generous financial support for a period of three years, starting in the 2019 – 2020 financial year. On behalf of ERSA and the community of researchers in economics, I would like to express my gratitude to the SARB for its
generosity, as well as to those responsible for engaging the bank in order to secure the funding.
An important lesson to be drawn from the experience surrounding funding over the 2018-2019 period, is that a strategic priority has to be a diversification of the ERSA donor base. In this regard, the private sector, international donors as well as other government departments should all be considered as potential contributors. Given that the ERSA programmes are designed to address the fundamental health of research into the economy of the Southern African region, hence our understanding of the functioning
of the regions’ economies, it should be possible to elicit additional financial support for ERSA programmes, potentially even to expand ERSA activities.
While the broad remit of ERSA, that of broadening and deepening the scope and quality of economic research in Southern Africa, remains intact under the new donor, the new source of donor funding is providing a strategic opportunity to evaluate ERSA’s legacy programmes, in addition to exploring new initiatives designed to best serve the mandate of ERSA as well as donor priorities. Currently, these evaluations are under way in consultation with members of the South African academy and relevant policy makers. Of particular interest at present are a revitalization of the ERSA workshop programme,
maintaining the Working Paper series, issuing a series of monographs presenting systematic compendia of papers from the historic ERSA Working Papers, intensifying the fellowship programmes of ERSA to extend to additional researchers and drawing in the diaspora of South African researchers working outside of South Africa, and expanding the training programmes of ERSA beyond the Skills Development initiative to provide specialized graduate training courses open to students of all South African universities.
These are exciting and promising possibilities and offer the possibility of a renewed period of growth and expansion for ERSA. I look forward to reports of progress in the coming years.
In the meantime, despite the conscious decision of the Board to scale back activities as a matter of fiscal prudence in the face of the loss of funding, ERSA nevertheless continued operations under a number of its legacy programmes.
The Working and Policy Paper series has grown to a total of 796 published papers. Approximately between 50 – 60 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 377 (a 49% publication rate – high for any working paper series), of which 232 have appeared in international journals, and 145 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 5 journals, as well as 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 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 has existed with 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 181 Research Briefs had been circulated.
Workshop activity During 2018-2019, 3 events/workshops were held, and attendance at the workshops continues to represent a diverse representation of national institutions and demographics.
Under the ERSA scholarship scheme, a total of 65 scholarships have been awarded to date, 62 for Masters, and 3 for PhD study. During the course of 2018-2019, 3 scholarship awardees fulfilled the final clause of their contract by submitting their final thesis to the ERSA Working Paper Series.
The Skills Development Initiative, which is aimed at raising the technical skills of young faculty members for an active research career, continued with the fourth cohort completing their final workshop on Panel Data Analysis in January 2019. To date ERSA has sponsored and convened 12 workshops, taking four cohorts of delegates through three trainings in Time Series, Cross Sectional Techniques and Panel Data Analysis
ERSA has benefited from the time, effort, and contributions of many people. We thank particularly the ERSA Office team of Gloria Halland and Megan Gelderbloem have distinguished themselves by their efficiency and dedication without which none of our operations would be feasible. In addition, we are delighted that Yoemna Mosaval has rejoined the ERSA administrative team while Megan has been on maternity leave.