Second economics duo wins Pifer Award

29 March 2004

Outreach kudos: Recipients of the Alan Pifer Award this year were Prof Murray Leibbrandt (left) and Dr Haroon Bhorat (right) of the School of Economics. Vice-chancellor Prof Njabulo Ndebele presented the honours.

The School of Economics' Professor Murray Leibbrandt and Dr Haroon Bhorat have netted the eighth Alan Pifer Award, becoming the second team working in the economics arena to win this outreach honour in the past four years.

In 2000 Professor Nicoli Nattrass and Associate Professor Jeremy Seekings were honoured for their work on inequality and welfare in South Africa. They were also the first to share the prize. Leibbrandt, Natrass and Seekings are all directors of research units in the Centre for Social Science Research. Bhorat is director of the School of Development Policy Research Unit.

The prestigious award is the vice-chancellor's annual prize recognising outstanding welfare-related research in medicine, economics, science, engineering or social research. The prize was established in 1992 to honour former president of the Carnegie Corporation and UCT benefactor, Alan Pifer.

Both winners have outstanding research pedigrees and much of their research has been undertaken together and published jointly, including their seminal work, Fighting Poverty: Labour Markets and Inequality in South Africa, which won the UCT Meritorious Publication Award last year.

In his nomination of the pair, Associate Professor Anthony Black, director of the School of Economics, highlighted Bhorat's and Leibbrandt's body of work on poverty, inequality and labour markets.

"This work has established the School of Economics and UCT as a centre of excellence in this area and, more importantly, is making a major contribution to applied academic research and policy intervention on these crucial issues."

Importantly, the pair's research leadership had attracted a growing number of researchers and postgraduate students to the field, Black noted.

Their affiliation began in 1995 when Leibbrandt was a commissioner on the Presidential Labour Market Commissions and Bhorat the research co-ordinator for the commission. This partnership was cemented by joint sabbatical leave at Cornell University (1998) and their dual leadership of a large African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) project, one that ran from 1998 to 2000.

One of the duo's main contributions has been the introduction to South Africa of frontier techniques for measuring poverty, inequality and labour market outcomes and for evaluating anti-poverty policy.

For Leibbrandt, the award signals fresh recognition by the university of a long tradition within the school of a group that has been "fiercely committed" to the measurement and understanding of South African poverty and inequality. "Under apartheid these academics, Francis Wilson, Dudley Horner, Sean Archer and Charles Simkins, were at the forefront of revealing the brutal cost of the system.

"In the 1990s this tradition focused on generating data and appropriate measurement techniques on which to found post-apartheid, anti-poverty policy and in demarcating the key challenges facing this policy. Haroon and I made our contributions here along with Nicoli and Jeremy. In recent years we have been joined by a group of top-rate, younger academics that are at the forefront of the best policy evaluation work being done in South Africa. This makes the school a really amazing place to work.

"Right now all three generations are still active in the school but this golden age is coming to an end as the founding fathers start to retire. The endorsement and encouragement of this tradition by the university means a lot to all of us."

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