Earlier research, as a Professorial Fellow of the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex, included the design and direction of a multi-country research program on gender and primary schooling in Africa, work on the linkages between primary education and economic development, on education financing, on development theory and on economic adjustment in Africa. Amongst advisory assignments for many governments and agencies, he served as consultant to the ANC and subsequently to the Department of Education in South Africa (1994-2000), providing advice on financing the new government’s education policies.
After graduating in economics and philosophy from Bristol, he became interested in a newly emerging literature on developing countries, which questioned the relevance of orthodox theory in the particular circumstances of newly independent African and Asian countries. This literature revisited major questions about growth and development which had been relatively neglected since the writings of the classical economists, and of writers in the Marxian tradition. The emergence of a new paradigm was in the air, and work on questions of development seemed to him to be more intellectually exciting – and more socially purposive – than being detained by, for example, economic models of price behavior in the countries of north-west Europe.
Education was a critical piece in the development jigsaw, a lack of which in Africa represented, even on the basis of casual observation, a key constraint on national development. He developed an interest in ‘manpower planning’ which, following doctoral research in Zambia, led to several years of advisory work in Africa. This experience taught him more about the political economy of development than most subsequent academic or operational involvements, and led, inter alia, to the publication of The Political Economy of Botswana: a study of growth and distribution (with S. McCarthy) OUP 1980.
However, the early popular emphasis on ‘high-level manpower’ as a key development constraint tended to divert attention and, sometimes, resources away from the lower levels of the education system. Those who did manage to get to school in the developing world usually did not progress beyond primary level. They were oftentimes left without secure literacy and numeracy skills, thereby deeply constraining their capacities to live a decent life, and holding back not just personal but also national growth and development. Reflecting this, one of his abiding interests has been to try to understand the ways in which primary education contributes to national development, and to investigate the ways in which the universalisation of primary systems could best be achieved. This interest led to survey articles on education and economic development (World Development, 19/3, 1982) and books on Educating All the Children: Strategies for Primary Schooling in the South (with K. Lewin), OUP 1993, and on Achieving Schooling for all in Africa: Costs, Commitment and Gender (with S. Al-Sammarrai, P.Rose and M. Tembon), Ashgate 2003.
The 1980s and 1990s brought increasing assaults upon the ability of states properly to finance education and other services. His work on the political economy of development was characterised by a skepticism that the dominant neo-liberal agenda could be supportive of poverty alleviation (States or Markets – Neo-liberalism and the development policy debate (ed, with J. Manor), OUP 1993) or that adjustment programmes, as delivered by the IMF, would be able to produce lower state spending in ways which protected growth and reduced poverty (Public Sector Pay and Adjustment: lessons from five countries (ed), Routledge 1997; Marketizing Education and Health in Developing Countries: Miracle or Mirage? (ed) OUP 1997).
More recently, his work at UNESCO in the early 2000s, where he was director and chief author of the first three EFA Global Monitoring Reports, allowed an overview both of the global policy-making process, and of its chances of success. Education systems have expanded since 2000 oftentimes influenced by national commitment to international goals. Progress and impact can increasingly be assessed. There are, for example, important consequences of expansion which need consideration – are the benefits of UPE common across contexts, and do they really benefit everyone? The recent work of the Research Consortium on Education Outcomes and Poverty, which he directed, indicates not only that the poor have less frequent access to education than the richer groups, but that where they do attend, schooling is oftentimes of lower quality, and they are able to benefit from its advantages less successfully - for a range of social, economic and political circumstances - than those from better-off families (see Education Outcomes and Poverty: A Reassessment (ed) Routledge 2012).