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The PhD issue

An increasing number of Masters students choose to enrol for a PhD in Economics as an alternative to entering the job market immediately. We asked five of our PhD students a few questions about their PhD studies and their views about the importance of Economics as a field of study. The questions are:
1) Why did you decide to do a PhD and what is your dissertation about?
2) When did you choose Economics and why do you think more students should consider Economics as a career?
3) Why did you choose Stellenbosch University for your PhD studies? and
4) What are the most immediate societal challenges that Economics can help solve?

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Nwabisa Makaluza

1) My PhD dissertation is a micro-economic analysis of the individual and household responses to the problem of high unemployment in South Africa. Part of the work that I shall produce is an extension of my Master’s thesis, in which I tried to identify some of the reasons behind the small informal sector, which is abnormal for a developing country. I chose to do a PhD in order to carry on with this work.
2) I chose Economics while I was studying for my Honour’s degree in Mathematical Statistics. Various incentives and constraints determine students’ choices.
3) Since my PhD research continues directly from my Master’s thesis, I wanted to continue working with my supervisor, Dr Rulof Burger.
4) In no particular order: inclusive growth, unemployment, poverty, and inequality.
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Debra Shephard

1) My PhD research is aimed at assessing quality and efficiency across different parts of the South African education system. It also focuses on methodologies that attempt to identify causal effects from observational studies.
2) I actually discovered Economics by chance. When I decided to drop Information Technology in Grade 10, Economics was the only other elective open to me besides History (remembering dates was never my forte). It soon became my favourite subject. I like that it offers varying points of view – there are many routes to the same answer or conclusion. I think as a subject it helps students to train their minds for critical reasoning and creative problem solving.
3) I was actually considering doing my PhD overseas, primarily because I had completed all my previous studies at Stellenbosch. I was very lucky to obtain a scholarship to do my PhD jointly at Stellenbosch and the Vrije University in Amsterdam. So in the end I got the opportunity to study abroad whilst at the same time maintaining a close relationship with Stellenbosch, which truly is one of the best teaching universities.
4) Speaking from my own experience, I think that the availability of more detailed and longitudinal micro level datasets would enable Economics researchers to answer critical questions surrounding issues facing the children and youth of South Africa, such as unemployment and the poor quality of our education system. There remain many "black boxes" that need to be unpacked. For example, little is known about the contributions that FET colleges and vocational training can make to decreasing unemployment, as well as how better matches can be made between the needs of firms on the one hand and the skill sets of youth on the other.
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Sam Mhlanga

1) My decision to do a PhD was influenced by the need to acquire advanced research methods by investigating microeconomic dynamics and associated aggregate outcomes.
The topic of my PhD dissertation is ‘Trade, Productivity and Firm Performance in Swaziland’s Manufacturing Sector’. The investigation is carried out using a unique plant-level dataset from the national accounts.
2) I chose Economics in 1995 when I enrolled for an MA in Economic Development and Policy Analysis at the University of Nottingham.
Economics is crucial for understanding the behaviour of economic agents under different economic environments and also to understanding issues such as trade liberalization, deregulation in distorted markets, etc. This makes Economics a rewarding career for any student.
3) The University of Stellenbosch is internationally renowned for high quality academic programmes and for cutting-edge research.
4) Redistribution of resources to narrow the inequality between the rich and the poor.
Deregulation of input markets.
Correction of market failures.
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Hylton Hollander

1) I pursued a PhD to sharpen my skills and to satisfy my passion for knowledge. My dissertation studies the interaction between financial markets and the real economy. I identify the role of financial frictions in business cycle fluctuations, and show how macro-prudential policies mitigate financial instability and its associated influence on the real economy.
2) On the contrary, I was in my 3rd year at Stellenbosch University when Economics chose me. It stirred my interest and intellect, and the piles of prescribed literature and passionate lectures testified to its scope and relevance.
Whatever your strengths – from Philosophy to Mathematics – or interests – from Environmental to Financial – Economics provides the framework to apply your skills to your passion.
3) It never occurred to me to consider other options…
4) Economic solutions are plentiful, but it is only by cooperation that they actualize. Our immediate and ever-present challenge therefore is to effectively and diligently communicate quality research to policymakers and all economic decision-makers.
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Cobus Burger

1) Youth unemployment and youth unemployment.
2)  In my third year we were let loose on South African household data and asked to think up any question that we think we could solve using the data. I fell in love with Economics right there. I would encourage students to study economics because it teaches you to think in terms of trade-offs. Whether students go on to pursue a career in economic is totally up to them.
3)  Professor Van der Berg.
4) I don’t think economics ‘solves' anything. We can however help inform policy and prevent policy makers from making obvious mistakes. For me the biggest issue right now is our education system. Despite South Africa being one of the richest countries in Africa we still perform worse than many other African countries in terms of educational outcomes
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