After excellent outputs over the past 10 years – especially with regard to the number of doctoral students it produced – the Chair in the Economics of Social Policy has been renewed.
The chair, which is held by Professor Servaas van der Berg and hosted by Stellenbosch University's Department of Economics, will receive funding from the National Research Foundation (NRF) for a further five-year period. It is the second time that this chair has been renewed.
“Our outputs were very good," said Prof Van der Berg. “We produced 16 PhDs over the past five years, something that is very rare in the field of Economics. I was the supervisor in most cases but there are more people who can supervise now."
Prof Van der Berg is leading a strong team of researchers and postgraduate students who have, over the last 10 years, produced research that is undeniably relevant to the social and economic challenges faced by the country.
The research mainly focused on education as one of the most important elements of inequality in South Africa and the pivotal role it can play to address poverty and inequality in income distribution.
The chair's health-economics portfolio has also grown quite significantly over the past five years.
The quality of research was highlighted when two research reports were included in UNICEF's list of the 12 best research reports published globally by UNICEF in 2014.
In the first study – Incentives for Rural Teachers in Namibia – researchers investigated how certain incentives could help persuade graduate teachers to settle in rural areas in Namibia. In the second study – Child Poverty Traps and Social Exclusion in South Africa – researchers investigated the phenomenon known as the 'poverty trap' and reached certain conclusions, among them that a failing education system is central to the issue.
“Our research is aimed at influencing policy," explains Prof Van der Berg.
To this end the group released two reports in 2016 in which they proposed that the Department of Basic Education's overall focus should be to ensure that every South African child should be able to read with comprehension by the end of Grade 3.
Generating additional funding of approximately R20 Million over the last five years is probably one of the chair's most significant achievements.
As the same person can only hold a chair for three cycles, Prof Van der Berg's focus over the next five years will be to consolidate the research that has already been done and to ensure that the research group maintains its momentum.
“More people are involved now and there is more capacity to conduct research and provide supervision. The aim is to establish structures so that research can continue irrespective of funding by the NRF," says Prof Van der Berg.