Chris Colclough

Published on 30 June 2017

It was with huge sadness that we received the news about Chris Colclough’s untimely death on Tuesday 28 June.

Chris was a Fellow at the Institute between 1975 and 2005, and was Deputy Director between 1982 and 1985. Chris was the lead researcher in the field of education, not just in the IDS but in the global academic and policy community. He made a series of particularly valuable contributions to an understanding of the factors holding back the schooling of young girls. Although he had an area specialism in Southern Africa, Chris had wide-ranging interests and worked in a variety of global settings. Amongst many of his substantial professional contributions was his founding and directing of the UNESCO Global Monitoring Report, the co-editing of the influential set of IDS readings States or Markets in 1991 and his transformative Editorship of the Journal of Development Studies.

Shortly before Chris died, a group of IDS colleagues wrote a collection of Tributes which were read to him on the day before he died. Extracts from this collection give a flavour of Chris’s roundedness, his professional excellence and how exceptional he was as a colleague and friend.

As researcher and policy adviser: “Over five decades, the range and creativity of your contributions have established you as the leading UK economist working on education in developing countries – and arguably the leading one in the world, at least for sustained sanity and sensibility!”; “your prime intellectual contribution over many decades is as one of the world’s foremost experts on education in developing countries. Your leadership and contribution to international debates and policy in this field is probably unrivalled”; “You have an international reputation for your research on education and labour markets, as the founding Director of UNESCO’s Global Monitoring Report on Education for All, and as principal editor of IDS’ flagship response to neo-liberalism – States or Markets?”; “Just two weeks ago, the Education Commission came to the World Bank to discuss their latest SDG costings and traced the history of this approach back to your work with Keith on universal primary education”; “at the IDS 50th Anniversary, you were one of the first speakers. So eloquently and with great insight, you revisited some of these same themes in today’s world. It was a joy and so illuminating to listen to you”.

As a colleague: “When you were at the IDS, I loved the way you always greeted me with a genial smile. And then in conversation, your soft-spoken voice gave you great authority”; “I will always be especially grateful for your marvellous contribution to the education section of my Fiji project after Dudley’s tragic and unexpected death left me to bring that project to an end without his wise counsel”; “Whether on serious matters or in fraught committees, you were invariably the voice of reason and measure. At a time when development studies were being humanised, and economics seemed too often to be moving the opposite way, you fought the good fight, kept your temper and humour, and helped others to keep theirs”.

As a Deputy Director: “You were great at chairing committees, sensible in considering the demands that have to be met when people who have pressing deadlines and somewhat competing demands on time have to work together cooperatively, and, as I remember it, you were very good at seeing people’s points of view. You were also good fun!”.

As a friend: “In those early days you even helped us paint the bedroom of our first house… with mushroom coloured paint (as was the fashion in the 1970s)”; “..Chris, you have long been a civilising presence in my life and my imagination”; “On one occasion, when I was away, (my wife) arrived at an IDS party, feeling very uncertain of herself and hesitating to move into the crowd. Suddenly, you were beside her, greeted her, put your hand on her shoulder and amiably steered her over to some familiar folk”.

As a teacher and mentor: “As a supervisor, you guided me and helped me progress very quickly with my Thesis. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity you gave me to obtain my DPhil. I can still recall sitting with you after my Thesis defence going over my arguments”.

And so much more…

His wife, Sarah, and son Giles were with him constantly during his last difficult weeks and were at his side when he died. Our warmest condolences and love go to them both.

Raphie Kaplinsky