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Director: Associate Professor Corne van Walbeek

Departmental Profile

The School of Economics is located in two Faculties, Commerce (which is also its administrative home) and Humanities. The School currently has more than 3000 undergraduate students. In 2010 the School had 157  registered Honours students (77 in Economics and 80 in Financial Management and Portfolio Management), 55 registered Masters students, and 54 registered PhD students.

Since 2003 the School has a collaborative PhD programme. This four-year programme consists of 18 months of core and applied coursework, followed by a standard dissertation. Since 2003 and through 2010 this programme has attracted 49 students, nearly all from African countries. In 2010 the School graduated 6 PhD students, of which 5 were from the collaborative programme. The proven success of the PhD programme was instrumental in the School of Economics being chosen as one of the three departments at UCT to be selected for a grant from Carnegie Corporation to provide scholarships to 12 students in 2011. The express aim of these scholarships is to help grow a new generation of academics, not only for UCT but for the contnent as a whole. Also, in 2010 the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC), which had been providing scholarships to between three and five PhD students, increased the number of scholarships to elevn for the 2011 intake of students.

In 2010, the South African Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) was chosen as the African base for J-PAL, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, which aims to reduce global poverty by ensuring that policy is based on scientific evidence.

Current research activity, with an emphasis on policy related research, is spread across a number of fields, including: development economics; international economics; international finance; financial theory; growth theory and empirics; labour economics; poverty and inequality; health economics; education; environmental economics; and political economy.

The School of Economics contains a number of research units.  These are the Aids and Society Research Unit (ASRU), the Development Policy Research Unit (DPRU), the Environmental Policy Research Unit (EPRU) and the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) and Policy Research on International Services and Manufacturing (PRISM).

Aids and Society Research Unit (ASRU)

ASRU is an inter-disciplinary unit that conducts quantitative and qualitative social science research on various aspects of AIDS policy and the socio-economic dimensions of living with HIV. Research activities range from detailed local level analysis (ASRU has several surveys of people living with AIDS in Cape Town) to international studies of antiretroviral treatment coverage, the AIDS funding crisis etc. ASRU benefits from strong links with the Health Economics and Research Division (HEARD) at the University of Kwa-Zulu-Natal and provides institutional support to visiting scholars.Our weekly seminar series provides a forum for students and academics to present their work, and continues to be a source of lively debate and cross-disciplinary discussion.

In 2009 ASRU (in partnership with the Social Surveys Unit of the CSSR and HEARD) conducted the fifth wave of the Cape Area Panel Survey of young adults in Cape Town. The survey included an HIV test, which will allow us to explore potential socio-economic and attitudinal correlates of HIV infection. ASRU researchers and students contributed questions on HIV-related beliefs, sexual behaviour, male circumcision and attitudes to treatment. This year we completed the survey, conducted back-checks and, under the leadership of Brendan Maughan Brown, created a useable data set. We hope that this rich socio-economic and attitudinal data set will provide the basis for many student dissertations and publications over the next few years. The most of the data will be publicly available from mid 2011.

In 2010, we initiated a new outreach initiative in the form of a collaborative action research project with Kheth’Impilo (an NGO which has partnered with the South African government to provide antiretroviral treatment in four provinces). Keth’Impilo trains and employs a cohort of over a thousand community health workers who assist people living with HIV on many levels. ASRU’s is collaborating with Kheth’Impilo to develop training materials for these community health workers. These materials are designed to met with the accreditation requirements of the National Qualifications Framework and to standardize and improve the training of these workers. This project is in response to the National Department of Health’s objective of ‘task-shifting’ health services from doctors and nurses to community health workers. This is a crucial component in the continued ‘scale up’ of antiretrovirals to those who need them.

Development Policy Research Unit

The Development Policy Research Unit (DPRU) is a University-recognised research unit located within the School of Economics at the University of Cape Town. The DPRU specialises in socio-economic research with a core focus on the areas of labour markets, poverty and inequality. Through the application of economic and statistical techniques, the DPRU’s aim is to produce academically credible and rigorous policy analysis.

The three core objectives of the Unit are:

  • To produce high quality, policy relevant research;
  • To train a new generation of research economists within the Unit; and
  • To disseminate knowledge to decision- and policy-makers in government, the private sector and civil society.

The DPRU publishes a successful Working Paper series and a Policy Brief series, both of which are freely available on the DPRU’s website. DPRU staff members undertake limited teaching and graduate supervision.

Professor HaroonBhorat, the DPRU’S Director, was awarded a Tier 1 Research Chair under the NRF: South African Research Chairs Initiative (SARChI) for the period 2010-2014. The thematic focus of the Chair is Economic Growth, Poverty and Inequality, and it facilitated the awarding of post-graduate bursaries and fellowships broadly within the fields of poverty, inequality, and labour markets to Economics students at the University. 

The DPRU has hosted several successful conferences within the past 10 years, which brought together the country’s leading researchers and policy-makers. A number of these conferences have been jointly hosted with Trade and Industrial Policy Strategies (TIPS), which has contributed towards a broadening of the scope. 

In 2010 the DPRU celebrated its 20th Anniversary. To mark its 20th anniversary and evolution as a think tank which has survived and sustained itself through the transition period, the conference dinner was opened by Minister Pravin Gordhan, Minister of Finance. As part of this event, some of the key personalities involved in setting up the DPRU also participated in a panel discussion. They included Dave Lewis (formerly from the Competition Commission), David Kaplan (Professor at UCT’s Graduate School of Business and School of Economics) and Alan Hirsch (currently in the Presidency).

Much of the DPRU’s work derives from government departments at national and provincial level, while the DPRU also receives funding from international and multilateral agencies. In particular, the DPRU has completed numerous research projects at the national level for National Treasury, the Presidency, and the Departments of Labour, Social Development, Education and Trade and Industry, as well as for various departments in the Western Cape Provincial Government.

Current and recently completed projects undertaken by the DPRU include:

  • Understanding enforcement of minimum wage laws
  • Monitoring the impact of the economic downturn on the SA labour market
  • Enhancing access to information: An analysis of collective bargaining and sectoral determination of wage data
  • Labour market dynamics in the Western Cape
  • An analysis of low-paid work in South Africa

The DPRU’s continued programme management role in the Employment Promotion Programme, a project funded by the UK’sDepartment for International Development (DFID), with a reference group composed of various representatives of government, organised labour and organised business – has been instrumental in allowing the Unit access to some of the key policy debates and issues in South Africa.

Environmental Policy Research Unit (EPRU)

The Environmental Policy Research Unit (EPRU) is a university-recognised research group which seeks to enhance environmental policy-making in South Africa through rigorous policy research and extension in order to promote sustainable development and poverty reduction. EPRU is funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) through the Environment for Development (EfD) initiative managed by the Environmental Economics Unit (EEU) at Goteborg University. The EfD consists of 6 Environmental Economics Units in developing countries (4 of which are in Africa), as well as the EEU in Gothenburg and Resources for the Future in Washington, US. This provides us with access to a rich network of highly skilled academics trained in environmental economics.

EPRU’s current research projects focus on the following areas:

  • biodiversity and ecosystems management,
  • responses to climate risk,
  • distributional consequences of climate policy,
  • poverty, service delivery and local environmental quality,
  • community based resource management,
  • fisheries,
  • behavioural aspects of natural resource management including risk preferences and cooperative behavior.

In addition to the Cordinator/Director of the unit, EPRU comprises 4 research fellows (Jane Turpie; Mare Sarr; Edwin Muchapondwa; Anthony Leiman), 5 domestic research associates (Stephanie Giamporcaro; Anthony Black; Precious Zikhali; Winkler Harald; Andrew Marquard), 3 junior research fellows (Kerri Brick, Reviva Hasson; Johane Dikgang) and an administration officer (Brenda Adams). A number of PhD, Masters and Honours students are also being funded and supervised by EPRU.

EPRU’s research fellows are actively involved in the School of Economics teaching programmes in environment and natural resource economics and also in the broader university. Our research fellows have been particularly prolific in 2010 with a publication record of 11 papers in reputable international and local journals, 3 discussion papers, 3 research reports, 3 research briefs and a book. 

Various government agencies such as DWAF, DEAT and SANBI have been closely involved in the research EPRU does and have therefore been closely linked in the final stages of the projects when research was concluded and results presented/disseminated. Increasingly the unit’s research is being channelled into research outputs accessible to policy makers. 

Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU)

The Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU) carries out research in applied empirical microeconomics with an emphasis on labour markets, human capital, poverty, inequality and social policy. We strive for academic excellence and policy relevance. SALDRU was founded in 1975 and, in the apartheid years, conducted a number of important surveys revealing the negative impacts of apartheid on the population. In the post-apartheid period, SALDRU has continued to gather data and conduct research directed at informing and assessing anti-poverty policy. Recent survey projects include the ongoing Cape Area Panel Study, the Financial Diaries Project, the Public Work Research Project and the Quality of Life Survey. In 2006 the Presidency awarded SALDRU the tender to set up and conduct the base wave of South Africa's first national panel study of well-being, the National Income Dynamics study (NIDS). In 2009, SALDRU won the tender for the second wave of NIDS and conducted the fieldwork in 2010.  Last year also saw the launching of the J-PAL Africa project within SALDRU. Linked to a global network of researchers, J-PAL Africa will build institutional capacity within SALDRU and more broadly to run randomized impact evaluations of anti-poverty programmes. 

Currently SALDRU's research team includes a Director (Professor Murray Leibbrandt), a permanent Associate Professor, the Executive Director of J-PAL Africa, 3 Post-doctoral Fellows, a Survey Manager, 2 temporary researchers, 19 research associates from within Economics, 4 honorary research associates. There are 19 research affiliates, reflecting SALDRU’s active national and international research collaborators. The NIDS survey office is run by the survey manager and contains 7 dedicated staff and, during fieldwork, up to 30 temporary staff members. The J-PAL Africa office is run by the Executive Director, Kamilla Gumede, and has four research assistants. SALDRU is governed by an executive committee.

Aside from the National Income Dynamics Study and the work of J-PAL Africa, current research work falls into the following research themes:

· Family Support Structures in an Era of Rapid Social Change (funded by the National Institutes of Child Health and Development).

· The Data Quality Project is a collaboration with DataFirst (funded by the Mellon Foundation).

· Fertility and Intergenerational Transfers (funded by the Hewlett Foundation and Population Reference Bureau under a grant to SALDRU as a global team of research excellence in population, reproductive health and economic development).

· Post-apartheid Poverty, Employment, Education, Health and Migration dynamics (funded in 2010 by the NRF Research Chair in Poverty and Inequality Research, the OECD and the Centre of Higher Education Transformation).

· Public Works and Social Protection (funded by the Ford Foundation and the British ESRC).

Since 1999 SALDRU has run the annual UCT Summer Programme in Social Science Research Using Survey Data. Currently this programme trains about 100 Southern African researchers per year. It was funded by the Mellon Foundation for the first decade and is now supported by the Kresge Foundation. In addition, SALDRU runs Winter Workshops in the analysis of panel data and in programme evaluation.

Policy Research on International Services and Manufacturing (PRISM)

PRISM brings together researchers working in the broad areas of globalisation, industrialisation, industrial policy, innovation, and industry sectoral and services studies. PRISM’s has a strong emphasis on policy driven research activities.  The other senior researchers in UCT involved in various PRISM activities are David Kaplan, Anthony Black, and Don Ross. PhD students supported by PRISM and working on directly related research are Lyn Reed, Judith Fessehaie and Letsema Mbayi. PRISM research associates are Raphael Kaplinsky (Open University), Jo Lorentzen (HSRC) and Justin Barnes (BMA).  PRISM members are involved in a number of collaborative projects with researchers at the Universities of Ghana, Ibadan, KwaZulu-Natal, Nairobi, Wolverhampton, Open University, Mzumbe, Addis Ababa, Mauritius, as well as research and policy organisations such as the African Economic Research Consortium, Institute of Development Studies, UNIDO, World Bank and NEPAD.


PRISM’s research projects in 2010 included Making the Most of Commodities (MMCP) (a UCT and the Open University collaborative research/policy programme with 16 researchers working across a number of African countries), China in Africa (a large Pan African research project organised through the AERC focussing on the impact of China on Sub Saharan Africa in respect of Aid, Trade and FDI), African Clothing and Footwear Research Network (ACFRN) (a network of researchers from Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Mauritius, South Africa, Denmark and France working on the clothing/textile and footwear/leather sectors in SSA, with the current focus on ‘Adjusting to Global Chinese Ascendancy in Clothing’ spanning 7 African countries), South Africa and Australia: Mining innovation (which compares mining technology, quality of outputs, export activity, innovation in various mining operations in South Africa and Australia), Intellectual Property (a World Bank Project focussing on intellectual property, the role of venture capitalists and the commercialisation of inventions), Global Regulation and Standards (a World Bank collaborative project which focused on global regulatory frameworks involving standard setting in the South African timber/furniture and horticulture sectors), Closing Skills & Technology Gaps (a World Bank project which was concerned with both the skill shortage and the technology gap as between South Africa and the global technology frontier), Cape Town’s Competitiveness (undertaken for the City of Cape Town examining its competitive position vis a vis other comparable cities), Export Constraints (a World Bank project on the constraints facing exporters in the medium and high technology areas; this project now investigates how enterprises circumvent these constraints and examines the policy implications), Employment Intensive Growth (which involves collaboration with the Trans National Institute and Institute for Social Studies in the Netherlands and examines South Africa's capital-intensive industrialisation process), and Energy Efficiency in industry (a study on energy efficiency production in auto and clothing/textile enterprises and sectors in South Africa 

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