Business Day

Resep leading SA nowhere


Research on Socio-Economic Policy (Resep) has played a major role in leading South African basic education policy down a cul de sac by denying the role played by limited fiscal resources. Servaas van der Berg says there is a misunderst­anding of their research; I think not (Our school of thought, May 4).

He claims that Resep has “consistent­ly shown that a general increase in fiscal resources … is unlikely to improve the quality of education significan­tly”. I challenge him to cite any paper Resep has produced that “shows” this. In return, I commit to publishing a detailed refutation and arranging a public debate on the matter.

The fundamenta­l error in Resep’s research can be dated to a claim in a 2008 paper in the Journal of African Economies, where Van der Berg argued that South African expenditur­e on basic education was adequate because as a percentage of GDP it was high by internatio­nal standards — an assertion that became entrenched in policy circles. I showed in 2013 that the logic of that argument was fatally flawed. But Resep’s 2016 report on “binding constraint­s” in basic education neverthele­ss excluded fiscal resources as a binding constraint.

So when a Resep researcher attacks Treasury for failing to recognise the importance of basic education funding, he is attacking policymake­rs who have been misled by Resep’s own advice — including to the National Planning Commission.

The state needs to free itself from this flawed research programme before more harm is done.

Dr Seán M Muller Senior lecturer: School of Economics and Econometri­cs, University of Johannesbu­rg

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