The launch of the African Centre of Excellence for Inequality Research has firmly inserted the African voice on this research agenda for what is most likely the biggest social challenge of the century. The Centre is the result of the Poverty & Inequality Initiative’s successful bid last year to the African Research Universities Alliance in partnership with the University of Ghana and the University of Nairobi, and with start-up funding from the Agence Française de Développement.
The #FMF debate has been dominated by calls for completely free higher education for all, or at least for a larger proportion of students. Such funding models, however, would create material unfairness and divert scarce resources away from projects more likely to combat inequality. They also would risk undermining social cohesion through divisive and stigmatising means testing. These were some of the points Dr George Hull, a member of PII’s workstream on social cohesion, made during a day of expert testimony to the Commission of Inquiry into Higher Education and Training (Fees Commission). Dr Hull has been advocating for a universal loan model with income contingent repayment as the fairest and most efficient way of ensuring adequate access to higher education without undermining social cohesion.
The PII has been part of a significant study on social cohesion in South Africa which has shown it is possible to measure and track this important domain of the nation’s well-being by using existing national survey data. Researchers now hope that its value for inclusive growth policies will encourage ongoing tracking of social cohesion by using a dedicated Statistics South Africa survey for data collection. The study, which explored the relationship between social cohesion and inequality, was a collaboration with the Agence Française de Développement and the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation.
Recent studies by the PII, the World Bank and others have reconfirmed that South Africa remains one of the most unequal countries in the world. These findings have underlined the urgency for effective policies to reduce the relentless poverty and inequality in the country. What is needed are strategies for inclusion that address the root causes of poverty, enhance opportunities for all – including through growth – and thus smoothen inequalities. Prof. Hiroyuki Hino, a Visiting Professor at the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit until recently, believes the quest for such strategies requires deliberate attention to create social cohesion alongside out-of-the-box approaches to achieving economic growth.