SU Economics of Educ 2019

SU campus

So we’re at that time of year again 🙂 I’ll be teaching the Applied Economics of Education course which we piloted for the first time last year. It’s a full semester course offered to graduate students in the Economics Department at Stellenbosch University. The lectures and tutorials will be on Tuesdays (4-6pm) and Thursdays (2-4pm) from July to November 2019. The course starts on the 30th of July 2019. I will be teaching half of the course and there will be guest lectures by Catherine Snow and Pamela Mason (Harvard) as well as Cally Ardington (UCT). The second half of the course will be taught by Profs Servaas van der Berg and Pierre De Villiers. The lecture schedule is included below.

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Aim of the course: The aim of the course is to expose some of our graduate students to the applied work we do on education in SA, particularly at RESEP, and also to the researchers who are doing that work (many of whom will be at the lectures as well). For that reason many of the prescribed readings are written by RESEP researchers. Some of our PhD students who will be taking the course are based in Durban and Johannesburg and will be joining the lectures via Zoom.

Who can audit the course? Although the course is for Honours students (ECON771) and Masters students (ECON871) we do allow other students from outside the Economics Department to take the course, as well as those from other universities and even from outside universities all together.  All participants (students and auditors) will be required to submit one reading reflection per lecture. While some of the readings and discussions are technical, the majority are not overly technical. If you would like to audit the course (either in person or online) please complete this Google Form. There is space for up to 15 auditors.

[1] An overview of the South African education system

The aim of this lecture is to provide an overview of the South African education system. For those who are not from South Africa please read the first four chapters of the Fiske & Ladd (2004) book and the Van der Berg & Hofmeyr (2018) article to familiarize yourself with the SA context.

Required readings:

  1. Spaull, N. (2019). Equity: A price too high to pay? In Spaull, N. & Jansen, J. (eds): South African Schooling: The Enigma of Inequality. Springer.
  2. Van der Berg, S., Spaull, N., Wills, G., Gustafsson, M. & Kotzé, J. (2016). Identifying binding constraints in education. Stellenbosch: Research on Socio-economic Policy. Available from: <; [Accessed May 2016].

Additional readings:

  1. (Policy) Gustafsson, M. (2019). Pursuing change through policy in the schooling sector 2007-2017. In Spaull, N. & Jansen, J. (eds): South African Schooling: The Enigma of Inequality. Springer.
  2. Fiske, E. & Ladd, H. (2004) Elusive Equity: Education reform in post-apartheid South Africa. HSRC Press; Brookings Institution Press. Washington DC.
  3. Mweli, M. (2018). Basic Education’s Role in Tackling Poverty. Basic Education Matters (2018: 1). Journal of the Department of Basic Education.
  4. Van Wyk, C. (2015). An overview of key data sets in education in South Africa. South African Journal of Childhood Education. 2015 5(2) 146-170.
  5. Van der Berg, S. & Hofmeyr, H. (2018). Background note on Education in South Africa. An Incomplete Transition: Overcoming the Legacy of Exclusion in South Africa. World Bank.

[2] Sampling, assessment and trends over time

Much of the economics of education involves analyzing sample-based surveys of educational inputs and learning outcomes. Of particular importance are the three international assessments South Africa participates in which are the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS, Grade 9 Maths and Science conducted in 1995, 1999, 2003, 2011 and 2015), the Southern and Eastern African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ, Grade 6 reading and mathematics conducted in 2000, 2007 and 2013), and the Progress in International Reading and Literacy Study (PIRLS, Grade 4/5; conducted in 2006, 2011 and 2016). This session covers issues of inter-temporal comparability, how surveys sample schools, representivity, basic statistical concepts in sampling, interpreting results from cross-national surveys and some of the literature that has looked at this issues in SA and sub-Saharan Africa.

Required readings:

  1. (SACMEQ) Ross, K., Saito, M., Dolata, S., Ikeda, M., Zuze, L., Murimba, S., Postlethwaite, N., & Griffin, P. (2005). The Cconduct of the SACMEQ II project. Chapter 2 in The SACMEQ II Project in Kenya: A Study of the Conditions of Schooling and the Quality of Education: Kenya Working Report. SACMEQ Educational Policy Research Series.
  2. (*) Chapters 1-4 of the Handbook of International Large-Scale Assessment: Background, Technical Issues, and Methods of Data Analysis (Rutkowski, L., von Davier, M., & Rutkowski, D., (eds).
  3. (Outcomes) Van der Berg, S. & Gustafsson, M. (2019). Educational outcomes in post-apartheid South Africa: Signs of progress despite great inequality. In Spaull, N. & Jansen, J. (eds): South African Schooling: The Enigma of Inequality. Springer.

Additional readings:

  1. (Access and quality) Spaull, N., and Taylor, S., (2015). Access to what? Creating a composite measure of educational quantity and educational quality for 11 African countries. Comparative Education Review. Vol. 58, No. 1.; Taylor, S., and Spaull, N. (2015). Measuring access to learning over a period of increased access to schooling: the case of Southern and Eastern Africa since 2000. International Journal of Educational Development. Vol. 41 (March) pp47-59; Lilenstein, A. (2018). Integrating Indicators of Education Qunatity and Quality in Six Francophone African Countries. Stellenbosch Economic Working Papers WP 09/2018. Stellenbosch.
  2. Spaull, N. 2012. SACMEQ at a glance series. Research on Socioeconomic Policy (RESEP). (Online). Available: [Accessed: 12 July 2018]
  3. Any of the recent South African reports on either TIMSS or SACMEQ
    1. (TIMSS Gr5) Isdale, K., Reddy, V., Juan, A., & Arends, F. 2017. TIMSS Grade 5 National Report: Understanding mathematics achievement amongst grade 5 learners in South Africa. Cape Town: HSRC Press.
    2. (TIMSS Gr9) Zuze, L., Reddy, V., Visser, M., Winaar, L., & Govender, A. (2017). TIMSS Grade 9 National Report: Understanding mathematics achievement amongst grade 9 learners in South Africa. Cape Town: HSRC Press.
    3. (SACMEQ 2013). DBE (2017). The SACMEQ IV Project in South Africa: A Study of the Conditions of Schooling and the Quality of Education. Department of Basic Education. Pretoria. (must be read in conjunction with popular press article below).

Popular press articles:

[3] Early grade reading in South Africa: What do we know?

Required readings:

  1. Spaull, N. & Pretorius, E. (2019). Still falling at the first hurdle: Early grade reading outcomes in South Africa. In Spaull, N. & Jansen, J. (eds): South African Schooling: The Enigma of Inequality. Springer.
  2. (*) Pretorius, E. & Spaull, N. (2016). Exploring relationships between oral reading fluency and reading comprehension amongst English second language readers in South Africa. Reading and Writing. (29) 1449-1471 DOI: 1-23 10.1007/s11145-016-9645-9
  3. Snow, C. (2017). Early Literacy Development and Instruction: An Overview. The Routledge International Handbook of Early Literacy Education. Routledge.

Additional readings:

  1. (2013). NEEDU National Report 2012: The State of Literacy Teaching and Learning in the Foundation Phase. National Education Evaluation and Development Unit. Pretoria.
  2. (SA PIRLS Literacy) Howie, S., Combrink, C., Roux, K., Tshele, M., Mokoena, G., & Palane, N. 2018. Progress in International Reading Literacy Study 2016: South African Children’s Reading Literacy Achievement. Centre for Evaluation and Assessment. Pretoria.
  3. (PIRLS 2016) Mullis, I., O’Martin, M., Foy, P., & Hooper, M. (2017). PIRLS 2016 International Results in Reading. Progress in International Reading Literacy Study. TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Centre. Boston.
  4. Hoadley, U., 2012. What do we know about teaching and learning in South African primary schools? Education as Change, 16:2, 187-202
  5. Reardon, S., Valentino, R., Shores, K. (2012). Patterns of Literacy among US Students. Future of Children. (Online). Available: [Accessed 12 July 2018]

[4] Reading Wars and Reading Skirmishes: Back to our Battle Stations

[Catherine Snow & Pamela Mason, Harvard University] 

Catherine and Pamela to send their pre-readings which will be circulated.

[5] #FeesMustFall: Who should pay for higher education?

Required readings:

  1. Van Broekhuizen, H., Van der Berg, S., & Hofmeyr, H. (2016). Higher Education Access and Outcomes for the 2008 National Matric Cohort. Stellenbosch Economic Working Papers 16/16.
  2. *Chapman, B. (2006) Income Contingent Loans for Higher Education: International Reforms. Handbook of the Economics of Education (Vol 2) pp 1435-1503.
  3. Davis Tax Committee. 2016. Report on the Funding of Tertiary Education. (Online). Available: [Accessed: 11 July 2018]

Additional readings:

  1. Van der Berg, S. (2016) Funding university students: Who benefits? Council for Higher Education (CHE). Kagisano, No. 10, p173
  2. Wits Students (2016). Thuto ke Lesedi: A Modelfor Fee-Free Undergraduate Higher Education in South Africa.
  3. UCT Students. 2016. Why Neoclassical Arguments against Free Education are Bullshit: And Why we need free education. (Online). Available: [Accessed: 12 July 2018]

Popular press:

 [6] Inequality in South Africa: What do we know?

Required readings:

  1. Spaull, N. (2019). Equity: A price too high to pay? In Spaull, N. & Jansen, J. (eds): South African Schooling: The Enigma of Inequality. Springer.
  2. Taylor, S. & Yu, D. (2009). The importance of socio-economic status in determining educational achievement in South Africa. Stellenbosch Economic Working Papers: 01/09.
  3. Van der Berg, S. (2007). Apartheid’s enduring legacy: Inequalities in education. Journal for African Economies 16(5), November: 849-880

Additional readings:

  1. Motala, S., & Carel, D. (2019). Educational funding and equity in South African schools. In Spaull, N. & Jansen, J. (eds): South African Schooling: The Enigma of Inequality. Springer.
  2. Fiske, E. & Ladd, H. (2004) Elusive Equity: Education reform in post-apartheid South Africa. HSRC Press; Brookings Institution Press. Washington DC.
  3. (*)Crouch, L. & Gustafsson, M. (2018) Worldwide Inequality and Poverty in Cognitive Results: Cross-sectional Evidence and Time-based Trends. RISE-WP-18/019. Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) (Online). Available: [Accessed 12 July 2018]

[7] Randomized Control Trials in education

[Cally Ardington, UCT Economics & JPAL]

Required readings:

  1. (RCTs) Kremer, M., Brannen, C., & Glennerster, R. (2013). The Challenge of Education and Learning in the Developing World. Science 340, 297 (2013)
  2. (EGRS) Cilliers, J., Fleisch, B., Prinsloo, C., Reddy, V., & Taylor, S. (2018). How to improve teaching practice? Experimental comparison of centralized training and in-classroom coaching. Unpublished manuscript.
  3. (OLPC) Cristia, J., Ibarrarán, P., Cueto, S., Santiago, A., & Severín, E. (2017) Technology and Child Development: Evidence from the One Laptop per Child Program. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 9(3): 295–320

Additional readings:

  1. Ravallion, M. (2018) Should the Randomistas (Continue to) Rule? Working Paper 492. Center for Global Development.
  2. Evans, D. & Popova, A. (2016). What Really Works to Improve Learning in Developing Countries? An Analysis of Divergent Findings in Systematic Reviews. World Bank Research Observer 31:242–270
  3. Taylor, S. (2018). How can learning inequalities be reduced? Lessons learnt from experimental research in South Africa. In Spaull, N. & Jansen, J. (eds): South African Schooling: The Enigma of Inequality. Springer.


 [8] Do resources matter for educational outcomes?

Adaiah to send their pre-readings which will be circulated.

End of Section 1

(Note that Prof Pierre De Villers and Prof Servaas van der Berg will communicate with you about their preferred mode of interaction (Dropbox, email etc.). We will cover this at the end of Lecture 6.

[9] Education within public finance literature

Required readings:

  1. Archer, Sean. 1994. State and market provision of education – selected issues. Edupol Research Report: Johannesburg.
  2. Blaug, M. 1970. An introduction to the economics of education. Penguin Press. Various pages
  3. Cemmell, James. 2003. “Public versus private higher education: Public good, equity, access – Is higher education a public good?” Mimeo.

[10] Human capital model and principal-agent problem

Required readings:

  1. Goldin, C. 2014. Human Capital in Diebolt, C. & Haepert, M. Handbook of Cliometrics
  2. Cohn, E. & Geske, T.G. 1990. Economics of education. Pergamon Press: Oxford, Ch. 3-5

Additional readings:

  1. Psacharoupoulos, G. & Patrinos, A. 2004. Returns to investment in education: A further update. Education Economics 12(2): 111-134
  2. Montenegro, C.E & Patrinos, H.A. 2014. Comparable Estimates of Returns to Schooling Around the World. World Bank Working Paper 7020.
  3. Lazear, Edward. 1996. “Incentive contracts and principal-agent problem”, in: Eatwell, John (Ed). 1996. The New Palgrave. A Dictionary of Economics (2): 744-748.
  4. De Villiers, Pierre. 1999. South African education: a principal-agent problem. South African Journal of Economics 67(3): 381-402.

[11] Higher education and NSFAS

Required readings:

  1. University of the Witwatersrand, 2016. Report of the university panel on funding model(s) for higher education in South Africa.
  2. Barr, N. 2004. Higher education funding. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 20(2): 264-283.
  3. De Villiers, P. & Steyn, G. 2007. Income and expenditure trends of higher education institutions in South Africa: 1986-2003, Perspectives in Higher Education, 24(2): 35-48.

Additional readings:

  1. Sanyal, B.C, & Johnstone, D.B. 2011. International trends in the public and private financing of higher education, Prospects 41: 157-175
  2. De Villiers P & Van Wyk C. 2011. Higher education information systems. Paper read at the Higher Education Conference, University of Fort Hare, 22-24 November, East London.
  3. De Villiers P. 2017. Die rol van die Nasionale Studentefinansieringskema (NSFAS) in die fasilitering van toegang tot hoër onderwys vir studente uit armer gemeenskappe in Suid Afrika. (For updated data information)

[12] Education production functions

Required readings:

  1. Hanushek, Eric A. 2007. “Education production functions”. Mimeo (input to Palgrave Encyclopaedia of Economics). Stanford University. January
  2. Burger, Ronelle. 2011. School effectiveness in Zambia: The origins of differences between rural and urban outcomes. Development Southern Africa 28(2), 157-176
  3. Chetty, R, J. Friedman. & J. Rockoff. 2011. The long-term impacts of teachers: Teacher value-added and student outcomes in adulthood. NBER Working Paper 17699.

[13] School and system performance: The role of resources and socio-economic background

Required readings:

  1. Hanushek, Eric A. 2010. The Difference is Teacher Quality. In Karl Weber (Ed.), Waiting for “Superman”: How We Can Save America’s Failing Public Schools. New York: Public Affairs: 81-100.
  2. Donaldson, Andrew R. 1992. Content, quality and flexibility: The economics of education system change. Spotlight 5/92. South African Institute of Race Relations: Johannesburg.
  3. Van der Berg, Servaas. 2008. How effective are poor schools? Poverty and educational outcomes in South Africa. Studies in Educational Evaluation 34(3), September: 145-154.

[14] Education and the labour market: Human capital and earnings

Required readings:

  1. Chamberlain, Doubell. 2001. Earnings functions, labour market discrimination and quality of education in South Africa. Unpublished Master’s Thesis. Dept. of Economics, University of Stellenbosch: Stellenbosch. Chapter 5: Past research on earnings functions in South Africa.
  2. Bhorat, Haroon & Leibbrandt, Murray 2001. Modelling vulnerability and low earnings in the South African labour market:, Ch. 4 in: Bhorat, Haroon, Murray Leibbrandt, Muzi Maziya, Servaas van der Berg & Ingrid Woolard (Eds.). 2001. Fighting poverty: Labour markets and inequality in South Africa. UCT Press: Cape Town: 107-129
  3. Timæus, Ian M., Sandile Simelane & Thabo Letsoalo. 2012: Poverty, race, and children’s progress at school in South Africa. Journal of Development Studies 49(2): 270-284.



4 responses to “SU Economics of Educ 2019

  1. De Klerk-Luttig, J, Dr []

    WOW Nic this sounds very interesting!
    All the best with your work in Education. I wish that the post grad students and lecturers in Education will also attend your classes.

    I wrote an article in LitNet where I used some of your research data. If you would like to read it the title of the article is:
    Onderwys: die ANC-regering se grootste mislukking die afgelope 25 jaar

    All the best

    Jeanette de Klerk-Luttig

  2. Hi Nic,
    How are you?

    Looks a good course. Some familiar papers from a long time ago: e.g. a paper by Sean Archer that I commissioned for Edupol. I think both Andrew Donaldson and Pundy Pillay wrote good papers on economics and financing of ed around the same time.

    Nothing on private ed, independent schools/private HE?

    Dr Jane Hofmeyr
    Education and Development Consultant

    Tel: +27 11 2341719
    Cellphone: +27 82 7849190
    Skype: janehofmeyr

  3. Jukes, Matthew

    Great that you have Catherine giving a guest lecture! She’s working with you?

    From: Nic Spaull
    Reply-To: Nic Spaull
    Date: Friday, June 14, 2019 at 1:25 PM
    To: “Jukes, Matthew”
    Subject: [New post] SU Economics of Educ 2019

    EXTERNAL: This email originated from outside of the organization. Do not click links or open attachments unless you recognize the sender and know the content is safe.

    Nic Spaull posted: ” So we’re at that time of year again 🙂 I’ll be teaching the Applied Economics of Education course which we piloted for the first time last year. It’s a full semester course offered to graduate students in the Economics Department at Stellenbosch Universi”

  4. Hey team – I applied and heard nothing back, not a word. So intrigued by you taking some of us from other universities around the world. What a great idea for those of us committed to working in South Africa. Shame there is not at least a, “we got your app but can’t/won’t take you” or some such. Wonder if my app somehow didn’t go through. Anyway, looks like a great course for those who get to take it!

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