Category: News and Opinion

News and Opinion

Below you’ll find the latest news about the RESEP team and their previous, future or ongoing work. Also featured are expert opinions on relevant happenings within the fields of education, labour, development and health.

Recently in the Press: Four Contributions by RESEP Researchers

In an effort to provide expert opinions, as well as assist in guiding public discussions around socio-economic policy, such as education, and issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the press contributions of RESEP researchers have increased markedly over the past several months.

Om die Riebeek-berge te versit

Leo Cordom

In April this year, 24-year-old Lunga Swelindawo received his Master’s degree in Economics. This Swartlander knew from a young age that he was different: He wanted to build bridges, lift other people and change people’s lives. Leo Cordom talked to Lunga Swelindawo about big dreams, to feel like a token black and his next big hurdle.

Recently published work

Several papers have recently been published by RESEP members in the areas of Education and Labour.

Common questions about South Africa’s Covid-19 response answered using the international OxCGRT dataset

Martin Gustafsson

I use the latest (16 May) version of the OxCGRT dataset to answer three fairly common questions about COVID-19 in the South African context. The three questions are: (1) Is South Africa’s curve a relatively flat one? (2.) Does South Africa have ‘one of the toughest lockdowns on earth’? (3.) How do restrictions and ‘flattening the curve’ relate to each other, and where does South Africa fit in?

How many commercial farms are there really in South Africa and are most of them ‘large’?

Marlies Piek , Johann Kirsten

Good policymaking requires reliable, comparable statistics over time. Despite there being an annual survey of agricultural firms in South Africa, confusion exists about the number of commercial farms in South Africa and the structure of the agricultural sector. According to the agricultural census in 2007, there were 39 966 commercial farms, while the agricultural survey mentions a figure of 64 192 and 57 126 in 2008 and 2017, respectively. With such diverging numbers across time, which figures should we trust and how does one analyse trends in the sector and make evidence-based decisions?

What the shifting evidence on the coronavirus means for school re-openings in South Africa

Martin Gustafsson

It is critical that the debates leading up to the re-opening of South Africa’s schools, and the actual process of re-opening, which will almost certainly occur in stages, be informed by the emerging medical evidence and reports on best school practices. Re-opening the pre-school sector, covering around 2.4 million children, and the earliest school grades, seems least risky in terms of infections. Moreover, there are strong educational and nutritional arguments which favour prioritising these levels.

Poverty rises, inequality shifts as Covid-19 impact continues unabated

Servaas van der Berg

Many have to fall back on that familiar South African last resort, the extended family. It will take some time before the full effect of Covid-19, the lockdown and recession will be clear, writes Servaas van der Berg.

New RESEP working paper assesses SA’s approach to COVID-19 compared with the rest of the world

Using a dataset known as the Oxford COVID-19 Government Response Tracker (OxCGRT), RESEP’s Martin Gustafsson assesses the South African response to COVID-19 relative to that of 139 other nations.

Education in a time of school closures

Martin Gustafsson

President Ramaphosa announced on 15 March that schools would close within days for just over three weeks, as opposed to the originally planned one week of school holidays. This is in line with steps taken across the world to reduce the spread of the new coronavirus. This is a sudden change of plan, and closures may be extended. What should South Africans look out for? What can they do to limit the adverse effects of this disruption on education?

With schools shut, kids go hungry (BD Article)

Nic Spaull

The coronavirus pandemic working its way through South African society will have many knock-on effects, one of them will be hunger and malnutrition as 9-million children no longer receive free school meals while their schools are shut.

COVID-19 in South Africa: Navigating social solidarity in a time of social distancing

RESEP’s Ronelle Burger today published an article in the Daily Maverick calling for South African’s to stand together and adhere to the President’s recent announcements on precautionary measures to stem the spread of the Coronavirus.

RESEP hosts researchers from the UK, India, and Nepal at a two-day workshop on education research

Heleen Hofmeyr

On the 20th and 21st of February 2020, RESEP convened a workshop on education research with participation from academics from the University of Bristol (UK), the University of Bath (UK), the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (India), and Tribhuvan University (Nepal), as well as key policymakers and researchers from the DBE.

RESEP researcher Cobus Burger builds winning model for Uber Movement SANRAL Cape Town Challenge

Competing against some 738 data scientists from around the globe, RESEP’s Cobus Burger recently won the Uber Movement SANRAL Cape Town Challenge. Burger’s model was most accurately able to predict when and where road accidents were going to happen on Cape Town’s busy roads.

Study shows standardised reference letters increase employment prospects

A cost-effective intervention that is easy to implement – this is how researchers describe the standardised reference letter that was developed to assist unemployed South Africans in their search for a job. The study found that job-seekers with previous work experience who use reference letters in their job applications stand to increase their employment prospects by more than 50%.

Revised results confirm large improvements in South Africa’s reading outcomes, albeit from a low base

Heleen Hofmeyr

A recent paper by Martin Gustafsson shows that there have been significant improvements in reading in South Africa in recent years.

Trends in performance in international evaluations of reading and mathematics

Martin Gustafsson

Two recent papers by RESEP’s Martin Gustafsson look into, firstly, the historical trends between nations in children’s reading and mathematics performance and, secondly, their future projections. These are based on three international evaluations: PIRLS, PISA and LLECE.

Reading research recognised by The Impact Initiative

Gabrielle Wills

Over the period 2016 to 2018, RESEP were engaged in a study titled “Leadership for Literacy” funded by the ESRC/DFID. The project resulted in the collection of new data on reading in three African languages. In this research impact brief published by the REAL Centre, University of Cambridge, and The Impact Initiative, the impact of this work to establish tentative benchmarks in African languages is highlighted.

RESEP runs an introductory training course on quantitative data analysis

Heleen Hofmeyr Servaas van der Berg

RESEP led an introductory training course on quantitative data analysis for researchers in education in Stellenbosch from 11 to 15 November. The course was attended by 29 participants working in education, and included graduate students, researchers, NGO memebers and policymakers from across South Africa. Funding was provided by the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation Endowment as part of RESEP’s Early Learning Programme.

Quantitative Education Research Conference again a huge success

Servaas van der Berg Gabrielle Wills

On 12 and 13 September, Resep held its fifth Quantitative Education Research Conference at the Stias Conference Centre in Stellenbosch. As in past years, it was attended by about 100 researchers, senior policymakers and stakeholders from all over South Africa. Funding was provided by the Zenex Foundation, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and RESEP itself. The conference was preceded by a smaller workshop on 11 September for emerging researchers in education.

Introductory training course on data analysis for education researchers

We will be hosting an introductory training course on data analysis for education researchers from 11-15 November 2019. Put your nominee in touch with us for further information about the application process.

Reading for meaning: a common issue in President’s SONA speech and RESEP’s “Binding Constraints” report


In 2016, RESEP published the “Binding Constraints” report discussing the importance of reading for meaning by grade 3. Three years later, President Cyril Ramaphosa echoes this sentiment in his State of the Nation (SONA) address in 2019.

Highlights from RESEP’s Early Learning Workshop (4 to 5 July 2019)

Gabrielle Wills

RESEP hosted a two-day workshop at STIAS from 4 to 5 July 2019, with participation from key academics and policymakers engaged in early learning research or implementation of improvement programmes. The topics covered include early childhood development and related programmes to improve the quality of grade R and ECD service delivery, assessment of children before they reach school-going age, reading trajectories in early grades and programmes to improve reading outcomes in school.

Minister Tito Mboweni, experts and researchers attend RESEP workshop on the South African Labour Market in a Macro-economic Context

Dieter von Fintel

On 20 and 21 June 2019, the labour group within RESEP hosted a small, successful workshop on The Labour Market in a Macro-economic Context at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies (STIAS)

Symposium on Subsidised Housing hosted by RESEP (Stellenbosch University), Bath University and WC Department of Human Settlements

On May 27, 2019, RESEP and uMama of Stellenbosch University, Bath University and the Western Cape Department of Human Settlements hosted a symposium on subsidised housing at the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Study (STIAS).

RESEP PhD student wins 2018 Founders medal for best thesis

Congratulations to Tina Fransman, who not only starts her PhD at RESEP in 2019 but also won the 2018 Economic Society of SA (Essa) Founders’ Medal for Best Economics Master’s Thesis at a South African university.

RESEP PhD student, Nangamso Mtsatse, in the global spotlight for literacy research


Nangamso Mtsatse, a RESEP PhD student, has been named as one of the world’s top 30 rising young leaders (under 30 years of age) in the literacy field by International Literacy Association (ILA).

Applications open: 2019 Bursary award to support a registered Masters’ student with an interest in education research or the economics of education

Research on Socio-Economic Policy (RESEP) is pleased to announce the availability of a bursary to support a currently registered Masters’ student at any South African University. The bursary is aimed at students with an interest in furthering their research into basic education, early childhood development (ECD) or the economics of education.

Hijacked by the urgent we neglect the important (SA Budget 2019)

Nic Spaull

RESEP researcher Nic Spaull unpacks the implications of the 2019 South African Budget, with a focus on education in particular.

RESEP’s Dr Nic Spaull contributes to presidential roundtable discussion

Dr Nic Spaull, Senior Researcher in the Research on Socioeconomic Policy (RESEP) group in the Department of Economics, spoke about the importance of restoring our malfunctioning primary education system at the presidential roundtable discussions.

RESEP alumni, Laura Rossouw, published in top-rated journal


RESEP PhD alumni, Laura Rossouw, has published one of her PhD chapters in the latest issue of top-rated demography journal, Demography.

Quantitative Education Research Conference 2018

RESEP’s annual, two-day conference on Quantitative Applications in Education Research was held on 6 and 7 September 2018 in Stellenbosch

RESEP website launch

It’s been a while in the making, but we are very excited to announce that the day has finally arrived: RESEP’s new website is now live!

New policy briefs: September


RESEP’s most recent policy briefs are now available for download.

Investment Trends Report: Financial Trends in Post-school Education and Training


In 2018, RESEP was contracted by the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) via the National Skills Fund to draft an Investment Trends report.  The report provides a broad overview and analysis of financial trends in Post-school Education and Training (PSET), with the emphasis falling on the 2010/11 to 2019/20 financial years, including the 2017 Medium Term Expenditure (MTEF) period, while providing detailed underlying data (nominal and real).

World Bank commissioned RESEP paper now available

RESEP team

A paper by RESEP’s Servaas van der Berg and Heleen Hofmeyr, titled “An incomplete transition – overcoming the legacy of exclusion in South Africa”, is now available on the World Bank’s website.

RESEP’s Short Course Training


The Department of Higher Education Training (DHET) course is funded by UNICEF. The course, which is a Stellenbosch University accredited short course, typically lasts two weeks. The aim of the training is to empower those working within the Department of Education to use their own data to inform future policy decisions. RESEP’s experience in working with data on the South African education system enables us to provide highly specialised training in management, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data.

RESEP’s Prof. van der Berg undertakes new work for World Bank in Lesotho


Servaas van der Berg has recently undertaken some work for the World Bank in Lesotho as part of a Public Expenditure Review.

Funda Wande: Teaching Reading for Meaning

Nic Spaull

The “Funda Wande: Teaching Reading for Meaning” project aims to help address the fact that most (58%) South African children don’t read for meaning, by developing a high-quality, free, open-access and SAQA-approved course: the ‘Certificate in Teaching Early Grade Reading.”

UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) commissions RESEP’s Chris van Wyk


In 2017, RESEP’s Chris van Wyk was commissioned by UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS), as the lead consultant to develop training materials and methodological tools to be used for capacity building activities.

RESEP Postdoctoral Fellowship Opportunity

Servaas van der Berg , RESEP group

Research on development issues in an African context. Analysis of household data sets, with a particular focus on poverty and labour market outcomes. Analysis of Higher Education outcomes, including the collation of existing administrate data, subsequent analysis of data, and the production of research outputs.  

ReSEP report on flows from matric to, and through, university enriching debate around student fees


Recent research looking at “higher education access and outcomes for the 2008 national matric cohort”, by Hendrik van Broekhuizen, Servaas van der Berg and Heleen Hofmeyr of Stellenbosch University are colouring the debate around student fees in South Africa with in-depth analysis that are attracting welcome interest.

ReSEP hosts its third Quantitative Applications in Education Research Conference, 28 & 29 September 2017

Servaas van der Berg , RESEP Group

ReSEP held its third annual “Quantitative Applications in Education Research” conference at STIAS in Stellenbosch from 28 – 29 September 2017. A total of 110 participants from a range of backgrounds, including education researchers, policy-makers and PhD students attended the conference.

During her video address, Minister of Basic Education, Mrs Angie Motshekga, welcomed participants to the conference and expressed her support for the ongoing research conducted within the ReSEP group:

SA data shows large and unexpected increase in births around 2004


This article originally appeared on the Business Day website as a partially edited version, which can be found here. For the original article, please read below.

By Martin Gustafsson

RESEP launches its synthesis report entitled “A Society Divided: How Unequal Education Quality Limits Social Mobility in South Africa”


On Friday, 24 March 2017, RESEP launched its synthesis report entitled “A Society Divided: How Unequal Education Quality Limits Social Mobility in South Africa”. The research project was headed up by Prof Servaas van der Berg and the report incorporates the research of about 20 authors. The central focus of the report is the role of education in promoting social mobility for the poor in the highly unequal South African economic landscape. The investigation is of particular relevance in a country where the rapid expansion of educational attainment since the 1970s has not produced the desired labour market outcomes for many South Africans, for the most part perpetuating patterns of poverty and inequality along the apartheid dimensions of race and geography.