Working Paper BETA #2021-45

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Title : Overcoming a legacy of racial discrimination: Competing policy goals in South African academia

Author(s) : Robin Cowan, Moritz Müller, Alan Kirman, Helena Barnard

Abstract : Because discrimination is systemic, efforts to counter it, and thus policy interventions, must also be systemic. The South African case is particularly instructive because it is so extreme: Apartheid deliberately excluded the vast majority of the population, black South Africans, from fully participating in society, but post-Apartheid efforts to achieve transformation have had limited success. This paper hones in on a key enabler of transformation, the university system. A successful transformation will be characterized by a larger academic system to accommodate the many previously disadvantaged students, by growing scientific quality and by more black academics so that the proportion of black to white academics resembles that of South Africans generally. This will require more black South Africans to do PhDs, to select academic careers, and to be selected into the top South African universities. Policy interventions can be developed for each of these many constituent elements, but it is not known whether policies will be complementary or contradictory. To determine the outcomes of different options, this paper uses computer simulations, calibrated with evidence from South Africa since the end of Apartheid. The simulations reveal very few direct trade-offs, although different combinations result in different benefits. By highlighting the (larger and smaller) gains and costs of different combinations of policies, the paper can therefore support informed policy-making about a highly complex issue.

Key-words : discrimination; universities; public policy; labor market institutions; social change; Africa

JEL Classification : I2; J15; J7