Economics students Tiaan de Swardt and Ryan Young continued the tradition of excellence at Stellenbosch University (SU) when they were awarded top prizes in the 50th edition of the Nedbank and Old Mutual Budget Speech Competition held in Cape Town recently.
De Swardt walked away with the first prize of R150 000 as the winner of the postgraduate sector of the competition. Young received R20 000 for his third place in the undergraduate category.
First launched in 1972, this annual competition gives talented economics students from all recognised South African institutions of higher learning the opportunity to put forward their creative ideas on how the Finance Minister can best address pressing issues in the economy and society.
To win, the 19 finalists, hosted in Cape Town during the budget week (21 to 24 February), were required to write an essay on a predetermined topic and impress the adjudicators with their understanding of the economy during a panel interview.
In his essay, De Swardt discussed the debt default risk in South Africa and its potential fallout.
His argument considered various risks for a sovereign debt default, but also highlighted potential mitigating factors. He emphasized the need for structural economic reforms, the management of state-owned enterprises and the management of the escalating sector wage bill.
De Swardt, currently in the second year of his Masters of Commerce in Economics studies, said being named the postgraduate category winner was a moment that he will remember for the rest of his life.
“It is such an awesome feeling knowing that I am entering the ranks of extremely prestigious economists who have won the competition in the past. I definitely want to make use of the opportunities and momentum created by the winning of the competition to further my career and to constructively contribute to the economic policy debate in South Africa."
He expressed his gratitude to the Economics Department's Dr Hylton Hollander (also SU's organiser of the Budget Speech Competition) and Prof Johan Fourie and Prof Dieter von Fintel, his two thesis supervisors.
“Dr Hollander provided me with extremely relevant and credible sources to use in my essay, and he provided me with advice on how to best structure my essay. Prof Fourie and Prof von Fintel's guidance and advice throughout the duration of my postgraduate studies have immensely improved both my writing and technical skills."
Prof Fourie said: “Tiaan's achievement is recognition not only for his hard work and sharp mind, but his willingness and ability to think outside the box. Tiaan's interests go far beyond economics. He was the top student, for example, in the Economic History course. Last year he also enrolled in a new course the Department of Economics offered: Economics and Philosophy. I think it is this interdisciplinary training that has given Tiaan an advantage over the other competitors."
Young, who is currently completing his honours in Economics, said it has been an amazing experience to to be a finalist in the Budget Speech Competition and to be placed third in the undergraduate category.
“When I entered the competition I had no idea I would get this far. It was extremely exciting and rewarding to be recognised in a field that I am so passionate about."
His essay examined the curbing of the public sector wage bill as an instrument to control government expenditure. He argued that the government was correct to focus on reducing the public sector wage in order to reduce government expenditure and ensure fiscal sustainability. However, he feels that the government was unlikely to be successful in its aims as the reduction in the public sector wage bill would be politically unfeasible and unlikely to be borne out in reality.
“The Department of Economics places high value on these accolades – including Tiaan's first place and Ryan's third place win. This is because we play a leading role in producing policy-relevant research and in training South Africa's policy makers; these awards therefore emphasises and celebrates that our graduates are successful in this space. We look forward to continuing in our leading role at taking the policy discourse forward, and partnering with our alumni who enter this space as thought leaders," said Prof von Fintel.
De Swardt's first place in the 50th anniversary of the Budget Speech Competition is fitting as SU also produced the first joint winner, Deon Burger, in 1972. Other winners and runners-up affiliated to SU include Prof Stan du Plessis, Chief Operating Officer (first runner-up, 1993); Prof Ingrid Woolard, Dean of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences (second runner-up, 1993); Prof Rulof Burger (first, 2002); Dr Roy Haveman (first, 2003); Prof Johan Fourie (second runner-up, postgraduate category, 2005); Olivia Ezeobi (first runner-up, postgraduate category, 2005); Dr Eldridge Moses (first, undergraduate category, 2006); and Rachel Theron (first runner-up, postgraduate category, 2016).
- Click here to watch a video commemorating the 50th anniversary of the competition and its winners.
- Top photo: Tiaan de Swardt
- Photo on the right: Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana congratulated
Ryan Young at the awards ceremony.