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Economics Department celebrates 100 years of excellence
Author: Daniel Bugan
Published: 02/04/2020

​Stellenbosch University's Department of Economics is celebrating its hundredth year of existence in 2020 ­– a milestone that is testament to its ability to evolve and remain a force in economics research on the continent.

Since 1920, various academics have made valuable contributions to build the Department of Economics into the successful institution that it is today.

These luminaries include the first appointed professor, Johannes Grosskopf (1920-1935), Prof DG Franzen (1947-1949 and 1976-1983), and Prof Jan Sadie, who served a 33-year long term as professor (1951-1983). All of them made great contributions to academic work, economic research and policy formulation.

According Prof Andrie Schoombee, who joined the Department in 1983, Prof Colin McCarthy (1983-2004) has played the most significant role in contributing to the culture of trust, respect and support that the department is known for.

“McCarthy always said 'I don't manage inputs, I manage outputs. Where you do your work and when you do it is up to you'. And that is how it has always been done in our department. This creates a lot of flexibility and academic freedom. He also promoted a culture of staff supporting each other. That is the culture I found when I arrived here, and I think Prof McCarthy had a major role to play in that."

Schoombee, chair of the Department since August 2000, has himself made a huge contribution to the development of the Department. In 2019, he was awarded the Chancellor's Award for his excellent management. Under his leadership, the Department has played a pre-eminent role in research, teaching and community service, while also undergoing transformation in terms of its race and gender composition.

The name of Prof Sampie Terreblanche has become synonymous with the history of the Department. In 2018, the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences invited its alumni to nominate the best lecturer during the course of their studies. Almost 500 alumni participated and the vast majority voted for Terreblanche as their best lecturer.

A former dean of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, Prof Estian Calitz, became professor in the Economics Department in 2001. Since his retirement in 2014, he has continued teaching a master's module (advanced macroeconomic policy) and has also been appointed a research associate in the Department. 

He said prof Prof Terreblanche, Prof Sadie, Dr Maria le Lange de Reville and lecturer Wolfgang Thomas played a major role in his development during his student years from 1967 to 1971.

“Prof Terreblanche was the person who made me continue with economic study after my first degree. He really kindled my interest in the subject. Prof Sadie was a focused economist and researcher and was good in all subjects. Dr de Reville focused more on what we now call microeconomics. But the person who I regarded as a very good lecturer was Wolfgang Thomas."

Policy focus

According to Schoombee the tradition of policy orientation in teaching and research is still a strong focus of the Department today.

“Policy orientation is what distinguishes us from other local economics departments. Nearly all research that we do here impact policy, either directly or indirectly."

However, the Department has also made a concerted effort not to prioritise research to the exclusion of teaching.

“Unlike some institutions abroad where research has become so important that they neglect time with their students, we have a very strong student focus," said Schoombee. “Our teaching is very important to us and we are very accessible to students.

“We've been teaching our postgraduate students in English before it became official university policy. The aim was, among others, to attract students from Africa to do their postgraduate studies here. We feel that we have a role to play in getting students from the rest of Africa well-versed in policy issues and policy implementation in order for them to apply it in their countries."

To celebrate its centenary, the Department will host a number of special events throughout the year, culminating in a week of celebration in October. Events lined-up include a PhD workshop, a LEAP (Laboratory for the Economics of Africa's Past) colloquium on gender in economics and history, the Thys Visser memorial lecture, a panel discussion on post-transition growth and pub quiz between staff and former and current students.

  • For more information about the Department's events and activities, visit its centenary website​.
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