Our Strands


THEMATIC STRAND: Education, Equity and Public Policy

Strand leaders: Mark Murphy and Barbara Read

Core members: Katherin Barg, Queralt Capsada-Munsech,

Policy makers and academics alike now tend to accept the view that issues of educational disadvantage and inequity cannot be addressed in isolation from other forms of disadvantage, be they cultural, social, geographical, political or economic. It is widely accepted that the causes of educational inequity are complex and multi-faceted, and are unlikely to be alleviated via education initiatives alone. This is also the case for educational trajectories and identities at the micro-level, which are subject to multiple and intersecting sources of influence.

This consensus at a policy and research level is one of the key reasons why a much stronger focus has developed on ‘inter’ work – inter-professionalism, inter-agency, inter-sectoral, inter-disciplinary and inter-sectional. Inter-agency working, whole-systems thinking and inter-professional learning are agendas that speak to the continuing need for joined-up approaches to public policy and also to the reality of social problems that often have multiple causes and complex multi-levelled solutions. Joined-up approaches are also necessary when it comes to the lived experiences of educational ‘users’, which requires assessment of the ways in which constructions and performances of identity (e.g. in relation to gender, social class, and ‘race’/ethnicity) are impacted by – and help to influence, resist or challenge – policy and practice in educational settings

By its very nature, this strand connects the work of the Centre to a range of other research and policy agendas, offering up a set of underexplored but innovative strands of intellectual and impact-oriented activity. These include the likes of a focus on:

  • Reforming the public sector – regulation and impact of accountability mechanisms on professional behaviour: do they deliver the desired reforms?
  • Unintended consequences of public sector reform – examining the consequences for street-level bureaucrats (teachers, nurses, police etc) and field of public administration more generally.
  • Partnership and inter-professional working – how do such forms of working impact on equity agendas at national and international level?
  • The impact of education on life outcomes: such as labour market success, health and happiness. With a particular emphasis on the interaction of education with confounders such as socioeconomic background and the transmission from individual to macro impacts.
  • Education and the economy: The role and impact of education institutions and associated staff and students in the (local, regional, national) economy.
  • Participation and attainment in education: Participation and attainment in education and the influence of social and spatial dimensions, access to educational provision and efficacy of institutional processes.
  • The place of culture: Student and staff experience and perceptions of educational/academic cultures in the context of changing governmental/institutional policies and practice
  • Belonging and exclusion: Issues of ‘belonging’/exclusion in educational and social life, and social power relations/dynamics
  • Identity and precarity: The relationship between re/constructions of identity, subjectivity and difference in socio-economic conditions of austerity and increased social precarity

Alongside these research agendas, this thematic strand offers an excellent opportunity to bring together a wide range of professions and services – for example, police, probation, health, social work and guidance services – that can help to broaden the remit of the Centre while at the same time contributing to an inter-professional culture in itself.



THEMATIC STRAND:  Education and International Development

Strand leader: Oscar Valiente

Core Members:  Michele Schweisfurth, Robert Aman, Queralt Capsada Munsech, Oscar Odena

Affiliated Members:  Clive Dimmock, Barbara Kehm, Kristinn Hermannsson, Barbara Read 

Education for a sustainable development

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Developmentrecognizes that education is essential for the success of the SDGs, with Goal 4 specifically dedicated to the objective of ensuring equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all.  This reflects the faith that the international development community has in educational change as a potential means to address these global and local inequalities.  However, they also acknowledge the need to understand more at all levels about education’s role in interrupting or perpetuating cycles of deprivation, from questions of economic investment at the macro level to classroom-level questions regarding quality provision.

A focus on equity and inequalities

Inequality is a global as well as national and local phenomenon, in at least two ways.  Between countries, development inequalities persist, whether we define development in terms of economic growth, human wellbeing, or democratic governance.  Additionally, at the national level, lower and middle-income countries experience some of the worst income and educational inequalities in the world, with wealthy elites co-existing with extremes of poverty and deprivation.

The Robert Owen Centre aims to generate a better understanding of the processes and mechanisms that reproduce and amplify educational inequalities between and within countries, as well as to critically discuss and influence international development agendas in a more equitable direction.

Research themes

Diverse expertise exists within the Robert Owen Centre, which covers this full global to local range. Some key research themes in which members have experience and interest include:

  • pedagogical change;
  • vocational education;
  • macro-economics;
  • intercultural education;
  • education in emergencies and post-conflict situations;
  • student migration;
  • education for social inclusion;
  • gender;
  • and higher education.

Research methods

Methodologically, we are well-equipped to work at macro, meso and micro levels and we are particularly well-placed to explore the interactions between levels through strengths in political economy, comparative research and policy-to-practice analyses.

Postgraduate teaching

Our postgraduate teaching includes two courses with a focus on education and development (International and Comparative Education & Education and International Development), which are both part of the Msc Education, Public Policy and Equity. In addition to this, the Robert Owen Centre is planning to offer two new Master programmes on education and international development that will start in September 2018.


Supervision is an integral part of the centre activity and we welcome applications from PhD candidates interested in doing research on educational issues from an international development perspective.

Research projects

Our experience spans much of the global South as well as the world of aid agencies; current and recent projects have included work in Mexico, Brazil, Chile, Malawi, the Philippines, The Gambia, Rwanda, Vietnam, the Andes region of South America, and China.  Current and recent projects include:

  • Examining gender in Higher Education (EGHE): STEM and beyond. A UK-African countries network (ESRC)
  • Case Study of Developmental Leadership in The Philippines:  Educational Experiences, Institutions and Networks  (Australian Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade/Developmental Leadership Programme)
  • Peacebuilding, Education and Advocacy in Kenya and South Sudan. (UNICEF)
  • Pilot Study of the Implementation of the Mexican Model of Dual Vocational Education and Training (Scottish Funding Council)
  • Evaluation of the Connecting Classrooms Programme (British Council)
  • Governing the Educational and Labour Market Trajectories of Secondary TVET Graduates in Chile (ESRC/Newton Fund)
  • Review of UKAid’s Support to Marginalized Girls (Agulhas/Independent Commission for Aid Impact)
  • The Implementation of Educational Reform in Vietnam (British Council)


THEMATIC STRAND:  System Change, Leadership and Governance Thematic Strand







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