Prof Ada Jansen, Chair of the Department of Economics in the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at Stellenbosch University, delivered her inaugural lecture on Tuesday 12 September 2023. The title of her lecture was “Tax revenue and development in South Africa: two sides of the same coin?".
Jansen spoke to the Corporate Communication and Marketing Division about her research that looks at how the South African tax system can be reformed to support welfare-improving policies and boost development.
Tell us more about your research and why you became interested in this specific field.
I knew early in high school that I would specialise in the commerce field, and I had my mind firmly set on becoming a chartered accountant. However, in my second year of university studies, I became fascinated by economics, specifically public economics. It was particularly important for me to explore how the state could use fiscal tools to improve the welfare of society given the deprivation experienced by communities I grew up in, and for the state to do so in a meaningful, sustainable and efficient way. Although I did not immediately specialise in tax research issues (I worked on environmental and resource economics earlier in my academic career), it remained a key interest. I decided to pursue my passion in this field by narrowing my teaching and research to focus more closely on tax-related research questions. I have completed research on various tax issues such as VAT zero-rating and tax expenditures, with the ultimate aim of informing public policy.
How would you describe the relevance of your work, especially for our South African context?
South Africa is a fiscally constrained country with high levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality. It is, therefore, imperative to answer questions about improving tax revenue mobilisation, how best to use our resources, and how best can we achieve developmental goals using fiscal instruments. My research therefore considers how the South African tax system can be reformed to support welfare-improving policies within these constraints. For example, what are the possibilities to raise further tax revenues by closing tax gaps or reforming the existing personal income tax system, without causing large trade-offs between efficiency and equity?
You have already spent many years in the challenging environment of higher education. What keeps you going when things get tough?
I am a firm believer that challenges are necessary to induce change. And even though one may feel perturbed within the midst of a challenge, it does provide an opportunity to regenerate and think creatively to achieve our goals. What keeps me going and drives me forward is the pursuit towards solving challenges and remaining steadfast in the face thereof.
What do you like most about your work?
I like working with students and listening and learning from their perspectives and insights. I like the fact that we are on a path of ongoing discovery and lifelong learning.
What would your message be to young girls who may aspire to a career in higher education?
Choose the career path that adds meaning to your life. A career in higher education can be challenging but so rewarding, especially if you consider the contribution you are making to others as they build their career path.
Tell us something exciting about yourself that people would not expect.
I listen to golden oldies and may even attempt karaoke, despite not being able to carry a tune.
How do you spend your free time?
I like to read and also take my cat for a walk – everyone is rather amused when they see a cat on a leash!