Challenging inequalities through policy relevant academic research.


October 2019
Dear friends,

Our October newsletter features one of our on-going projects in higher education. SALDRU has a number of active research projects on education, and our work on funding in higher education is one area in which many Saldrupians have developed experience and expertise. The project that we describe in this newsletter arises from the substantial challenges facing the higher education sector in South Africa at present, and we are happy to participate in a small way in finding constructive ways forward.

We also highlight some of the work from the J-PAL Africa team. They have been justifiably over-the-moon since their founders were awarded the Nobel prize in economics this past month. This month’s newsletter shows how their work has been brought to bear to have a positive impact within our context.

Saldrupians continue to move onwards and upwards and make us proud. Rocco Zizzamia has started working on his PhD at Oxford University, and Kim Ingle has joined the Siyaphambili project on access and success in higher education in South Africa. Several of our researchers have made presentations in various platforms, including the UNU-WIDER development conference which was held in Bangkok a short while ago.

Best wishes,
Murray Leibbrandt
Director, SALDRU
Vimal Ranchhod
Deputy Director, SALDRU

SALDRU study on funding in Higher Education in South Africa

Image: Pixabay on Pexels.

In April of 2019, SALDRU began a two-year project focussed on higher education funding in South Africa. The study, which was commissioned by Universities South Africa (USAf) and funded by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), involves research to determine the full financial cost of producing graduates at each of South Africa’s twenty-six public universities. Led by Prof. Vimal Ranchhod, the study involves analysing historical data from universities’ financial statements, combined with administrative data on student performance from DHET. The broader purpose of the study is to assist in determining an appropriate level of funding for the university sector in South Africa. Read more.

J-PAL Co-Founders Awarded Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics 

J-PAL co-founders Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo with J-PAL senior leadership at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in July 2019. Photo: J-PAL.

Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) co-founders Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, with longtime J-PAL affiliate Michael Kremer, were jointly awarded the 2019 Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. The prize was awarded “for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty.”

J-PAL Africa is based within SALDRU and leads J-PAL’s work in sub-Saharan Africa. Flagship work includes Teaching at the Right Level (TaRL) Africa and the recently launched Digital Identification and Finance Initiative in Africa. In South Africa, research and policy engagement focuses on evaluating the impact of social programmes and policies, covering a range of sectors including labour markets, urban services, and political participation. Read more.

Impact of Nobel laureates’ work is felt by SA’s youth and kids in our classrooms

Image: Pixabay on Pexels.

As mentioned above, this year’s Economics Nobel laureates are Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer. A recent Sunday Times article by Murray Leibbrandt and Laura Poswell explains how J-PAL Africa and SALDRU are proud to have worked with all three laureates to bring appropriate use of the tools they have developed and popularised to South Africa and the region. Read more.


Rocco Zizzamia begins PhD at the University of Oxford

Rocco Zizzamia has begun his PhD in International Development at the University of Oxford, where he will be working with Professor Pramila Krishnan. Rocco will be expanding on the research he did towards his MPhil (also at Oxford), which used qualitative and quantitative data to investigate the barriers that young South Africans face in finding and keeping jobs in the formal sector. He is not leaving the SALDRU family though and will likely be back for fieldwork for extended periods.
Rocco is a Research Officer at SALDRU and his research interests include the study of poverty and poverty dynamics, labour economics, economic inequality, and the use of mixed methods.

New Siyaphambili team member

Kim Ingle has joined the Siyaphambili team as a research analyst. She will be working on the Siyaphambili project on inequalities in access and success in higher education with a focus on work using higher education administrative and institutional data. Kim will also continue to compile the monthly SALDRU newsletter and maintain the SALDRU website and social media.

Prior to working on Siyaphambili, Kim worked on the National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS) and the Land Restitution Evaluation Study (LRES), both in SALDRU.


An empirical analysis of trends in female labour force participation and the gender wage gap in South Africa

A cohort analysis of labour force participation, employment and earnings reveals persistent gender gaps over the life cycle. However, the gender wage gap is smaller for the youngest cohorts, an indication of a long-term narrowing of the gap as male and female labour market characteristics become similar. The significance of age is evident as the gender wage gap increases over the life cycle indicating a discontinuous labour force participation for women. Interventions to reduce this discontinuity require, among other things, alleviating the disproportionate burden of care work shouldered by women to enable them to commit more time to the labour market. Occupational distribution trends by gender show that more recent cohorts of women are in better occupations than the generations of women before them. This is attributable to improved human capital and better labour market opportunities for younger cohorts. A further narrowing of the gender wage gap requires interventions that will ensure a better distribution of women in male dominated occupations. We note however, that African men and women seem to be dropping out of the labour market at an early age which implies that other factors aside from motherhood or family responsibilities (possibly health issues) are causing this decline in participation. Access here.

Citation: Jacqueline Mosomi (2019) An empirical analysis of trends in female labour force participation and the gender wage gap in South Africa, Agenda, DOI: 10.1080/10130950.2019.1656090

For more SALDRU working papers, journal article contributions and policy briefs, please visit OpenSALDRU.

Call for papers

Image: IUSSP.

The second International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP) Population, Poverty and Inequality Research conference will be held at the Agence française pour le développement (AFD) headquarters in Paris between 22 - 24 June 2020. Murray Leibbrandt co-chairs the IUSSP Scientific Panel on Population, Poverty and Inequality with Jocelyn E. Finlay of Harvard University. The panel invites economists, demographers, economic demographers, sociologists, and scholars from other related disciplines to submit their research on the interactions between population dynamics, poverty and inequality. The deadline for submissions is 16 December 2019. More information and how to submit an abstract can be found here.

UNU-WIDER Development Conference


Rocco Zizzamia presented at the recent UNU-WIDER Development Conference in Bangkok. The conference theme was "Transforming economies - for better jobs". Rocco presented on research of his which explored how low job quality acts as a disincentive to young men finding (and keeping) jobs in urban South Africa. His SALDRU working paper can be found here, and slides from his presentation can be found here. SALDRU PhD graduate Janina Hundenborn and SALDRU PhD candidate, Amina Ebrahim, also presented at the conference.

Presentation on Higher Education Funding at the USaf Higher Education Conference

Image: Pixabay on Pexels.

On the 3rd of October, Vimal Ranchhod gave a presentation titled “Higher Education Funding in South Africa” at the recent Higher Education Conference convened by USAf between the 2nd – 4th of October held at the CSIR in Pretoria. In the presentation, he summarized some trends from the national budget, student enrolment numbers in universities in South Africa, and corresponding trends in incomes and expenditure for the University sector. He analysed trends in data from DHET for the period from 2009 – 2016, and found that both revenues and expenditures in the university sector had increased substantially. This could only partially be explained by inflation in combination with the increase in enrolments. A key cost driver for the remaining increase in expenditures was the increase in personnel costs over this time period.


Deputy Director of SALDRU, Vimal Ranchhod and the Director of SALDRU, Murray Leibbrandt, at the SALDRU 2019 AGM. Photos: Kim Ingle, SALDRU.

SALDRU's AGM was held on 18 October 2019. Members of SALDRU got together to reflect on the last year and plans going forward. Vimal Ranchhod welcomed attendees and Murray Leibbrandt gave an overview of SALDRU. Tania Hendricks reviewed SALDRU operations and finances over the last year. Representatives from most of the large projects in SALDRU then presented on their projects and the interesting and varied work that they have done over the last year.

SALDRU Seminars

SALDRU Seminar 9 October: “Organising for Work: Community Organising to Alleviate Unemployment”, by Ayal Belling of Organising for Work.

SALDRU Seminar 11 October: “Monopsony and Employer Mis-optimization Explain Why Wages Bunch at Round Numbers”, by Suresh Naidu of Columbia University.

For information about past and future seminars, click here. To subscribe to our seminar mailing list, click here.
UCT News, 11 October 2019
NiDS: telling South Africa’s story since 2008

Afternoon Drive with John Maytham, 16 October 2019
The Nobel Prize for Economics – what does this mean for SA?
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