Who we are

Equitable Education and Economies (EEE)

Who we are

The HSRC’s Equitable Education and Economies (EEE) division undertakes research to transform educational outcomes and increase economic participation. It recognises that education and the economy have long been linked, and therefore conducts research in both areas, sometimes discretely, many times overlapping, and through a multidisciplinary lens. The EEE division tries to understand educational performance and improve learning for those who have had unequal starting points, and interrogate the social, spatial and structural obstacles to economic participation to bring about the gains and growth South Africa needs. A large part of the EEE division’s work includes assessments of the effectiveness of government programmes in maths and science education, skills development, land, housing and economic development; participation of young people in accessing dignified and decent work; the transformation of higher education; and innovation that supports wider access to services and food security.

What we do

Changing economies

The national economy is made up of diverse regional, city and local economies. It changes constantly, affecting people’s livelihoods and living standards. Research in this strategic area seeks to understand the forces that drive temporary fluctuations in the economy, and the bigger longer-term shifts in economic structures, social relations, and spatial distribution of economic opportunities. A focus of research by the HSRC’s Equitable Education and Economies (EEE) division is on innovation and how to change the economy so that it produces better outcomes for all people, including the role of the state in enacting economic policies that foster wider participation among the vulnerable and marginalised. The HSRC has considerable expertise in spatial economic development (rural, urban and regional), human settlement formation and community dynamics. The key stakeholders include the national departments of Trade, Industry and Competition; Human Settlements; Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development; local government; and National Treasury, along with key provinces and metropolitan municipalities.

Education and livelihoods

Education is central to human actualisation and greatly affects young people’s life outcomes and our societies. South Africa has long struggled with the issue of quality education, and the era of technological disruption and innovation poses new challenges. The educational sector at primary, secondary and tertiary levels must respond to the need for new forms of knowledge and knowing. At the tertiary level, issues of access remain significant as well as the differentiation between university-level higher education offerings and those needed from the Tertiary Vocational Education and Training sector. Research conducted by the HSRC’s Inclusive Economic Development division looks at the planning, quality, governance, effectiveness, transformation, transitions and outcomes of education at all stages. The division’s work currently focuses on the unequal contexts of learning, assessment of achievement, the acquisition of relevant life and livelihood-ready skills in the context of changing technologies, and the future of work for youth in South Africa, Africa, and the Global South.

The Imprint of Education study

The Mastercard Foundation has funded the HSRC  to conduct a longitudinal cohort study, The Imprint of Education  (TIE). Over a period of five years, TIE is pursuing questions on topics such as ethical and transformative leadership, giving back, livelihoods, identity, mentoring and work with the view to understand how to better prepare young African graduates to have a real impact on their worlds. Read more about TIE.

Global South Youth Studies Scholars Community of Practice

A Community of Practice of Global South Youth Studies Scholars (GSYSS) Ninety percent of the world’s youth live in Africa, Latin America and the developing countries of Asia. Despite this, the field of Youth Studies, is dominated by texts that universalise the experiences of youth despite having been researched and written in Northern contexts. Read more about GSYSS here  

Ukuvula Isango: Women Rise Project

In sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa was the country that experienced the highest Covid 19 death rates, reaching over 700 per 100 000 in places. The Eastern Cape Province was at the epi-center of the crisis with very high Covid death rates, social fracture, and the systemic collapse of the public health system. Rural women had a heavy load to bear as custodians of family health, as care workers, mothers, anchors for rural livelihoods, and community organizers.

In this context, rural women used the idiom: ‘Ukuvalo isango’ (“closing the gate”) to describe their experience of exclusion under Covid-19 regulations.This research will be the first step towards building policy and infrastructure that can “re-open the gate” (ukuvula isango) – that is, to “build back better” for women.

This project will be carried out by the Human Sciences Research Council in South Africa and McGill University Canada to address key issues related to the precarity of women in rural areas of South Africa during the COVID-19 pandemic as a starting point for post COVID-19 rebuilding. Using the ‘peoples science’ action approach in two phases, the team will document and explore women lives before and during the pandemic to identify trends and triggers that elevate or depreciate their livelihoods and health status. In the second phase, the project will use this analysis to explore strategies to enhance prevention in both the health and livelihood spheres

For more information please click HERE Please click HERE for more about the blogs articles and stories, written by and with the research team (our graduate researchers).

Community of practice: Housing and Equitable Cities

This community of practice brings together a network of scholars, activists, policy makers and practitioners interested in promoting access to adequate urban housing and more equitable cities. Read more about their activities here The COP is rooted in an understanding that cities around the world, especially in rapidly urbanising countries in the global South, face a systemic housing crisis that is interlinked with issues of poverty, urban inequalities, and socio-spatial segregation. An increasing number of urban residents are excluded from formal property markets and state provision of housing, thus relying on informal practices to inhabit urban spaces and access opportunities. As such, practices of land and building occupations, informal rental housing, tented camps and urban commoning become integral features of urban landscapes, considerably shaping our neighbourhoods and cities. At the same time, housing and real estate function as important income-generating and wealth accumulation opportunities, albeit very unequally distributed across cities and the urban population. This COP centres the role of housing in urbanisation processes by pursuing three overarching goals:

  1. To research how housing policy and practice shape urban residents’ wellbeing, their access to the city, and larger processes of urbanization
  2. To contribute to local, national and global policy debates on how housing can help to create more inclusive and equitable cities
  3. To contribute to global theory from a Southern perspective on housing and urbanization 

Members of the COP Housing and Equitable Cities are currently involved in the following projects: For more about this project please click on link below: COP:  Membership list  

Revisiting how South African Agrarian Households Work and Live

The Climate Land and Agrofood Systems (CLAS) team in EEE has been appointed to conduct the 2023 Agrarian Rural Household Economy (ARHE) study. Tshintsha Amakhaya (TA), an activist collective that advocates for people’s rights to land and agrarian livelihoods, commissioned this study as a follow-up to their 2011 research. The appointment of HSRC to undertake this study flows from our recognised expertise in this field and our ability to carry out large-scale research with pro-poor outcomes. The main aim of the 2023 study is to document the working and living conditions among small farming households and farmworkers in South Africa. Standout markers of the makeup of these agrarian households will be explored in addition to livelihood catalysts. Women, for example, form a substantial majority of agrarian labour. However, gender equity policies often coexist with deep-rooted barriers that block women’s control over and access to land, agricultural inputs and crop and livestock outputs. Gender inequalities in agrarian activities also show up in climate dynamics and the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic in these settings. For more information about the project please click HERE  

‘One Food’ Delivering climate resilience through safe and sustainable food systems

This project contributes to a larger initiative between the South African Government and the UK Government to co-design and deliver the One Food project. As part of this initiative the HSRC is working together on embedding social science issues into the project, in collaboration with the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas). The HSRC is conducting a series of research projects on social science aspects of One Food.

Read more here

Project Snapshots


Equitable Education and Economies (EEE)

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