The Development Policy Research Unit (DPRU) has been actively engaged in policy-relevant research since 1990, establishing itself over three decades as one of South Africa’s premier economic policy research institutions in the fields of labour markets, poverty and inequality.

The DPRU aims to inform economic and social policymaking by specialising in academically rigorous research into various labour market challenges; their causes in areas such as education and regulation; and their consequences as manifest in poverty and inequality. Researchers also engage in projects concentrating on related issues like financial development or trade – with specific focus on South Africa and Africa more generally – or demography, such as the Counting Women’s Work project. The bulk of the Unit’s research derives from the analysis and manipulation of micro-level datasets, such as individual and household surveys, firm surveys, national census and increasingly, administrative databases.

The DPRU’s past research aims can be broadly categorised as fitting into three thematic areas: the first involves measuring and understanding the economic impact of minimum wages in the SA and African context, and included the debate around the national minimum wage in South Africa. The second focal point is to provide empirically rich and innovative assessments of trends in poverty, inequality and the labour markets for South Africa. The third focuses on understanding growth, poverty, inequality and labour market dynamics within the broader African context. Current research includes specific projects such as the Economics of Corruption & State Capture, studies focused on structural change and economic complexity, and a Community of Practice titled: ‘Towards Resilient Futures: Developing a Fibre Micro-industry to Generate Economic Growth from Degraded Land’.

Our research on minimum wages (in close collaboration with colleagues at Cornell University), has engendered a completely new, and globally innovative set of methods and ideas on the economics of enforcement. We remain leaders in the field in terms of modelling the determinants of violation of labour laws by firms, providing innovative econometric solutions to the problems of endogeneity inherent in these types of study. The work remains at the forefront of such research in South Africa, and has contributed to similar discussions and debates globally.

A component of our recent research has been grounded in empirical labour economics, but applied to low income countries in Africa. This was virgin territory globally, and as a consequence, placed DPRU researchers at the forefront of a unique and innovative global programme. Policy-orientated issues, deserving of much more careful analytical work, that have arisen over the past few years include the rise of temporary employment services (TES workers) or ‘labour brokers’, employment generation in the economy, and the future of SETAs within the broader higher education landscape.

In each case, the DPRU is central to providing analytically and empirically rigorous information to the relevant government departments – and in some cases, their respective Ministers. The Unit’s research feeds into policy decisions and pronouncements at the highest level, including Cabinet memoranda, State of the Nation Addresses and legislation, while our research findings are regularly featured in the print and electronic media. Much of the DPRU’s work derives from government departments at national and provincial level, while the Unit also receives funding from international and multilateral agencies. In particular, the DPRU has completed numerous research projects for National Treasury, the Presidency, and the Departments of Labour, Social Development, Education and Trade and Industry, as well as for various departments in the Western Cape Provincial Government.

As part of our engagement in the policy arena, the DPRU has hosted highly successful conferences aimed at fostering greater interaction between researchers and policymakers. The Unit publishes high quality journal articles, as well as a Working Paper and a Policy Brief series. DPRU staff members also undertake limited teaching and graduate supervision.

In addition to our research and capacity building activities, the DPRU is engaged in the programme management of various projects such as: The Labour Market Intelligence research programme, aimed at establishing a credible institutional mechanism for skills planning in South Africa; the Employment Promotion Programme (EPP), an initiative of the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID), aimed at providing an enabling policy environment in South Africa for employment creation and poverty reduction in South Africa; and Counting Women’s Work (CWW) – a multi-country research effort incorporating unpaid work into the National Transfer Accounts framework. 

The DPRU is also the selected South African partner institution of the African Growth Initiative (AGI), in partnership with the Brookings Institution in the United States. This partnership ensures the DPRU’s research reach a broader international policymaking audience.

The DPRU's Director, Professor Haroon Bhorat, holds the NRF Research Chair in Economic Growth, Poverty and Inequality. This has facilitated the awarding of postgraduate bursaries and fellowships broadly within the DPRU’s main areas of interest to Economics students at the University of Cape Town.