a centenary
of Learning

  • 67
  • by Professor Rupert Donald Iain Maclean, AO
  • graduated 1974
  • studied Other Studies
  • from Liberia, China, Afghanistan, Myanmar, Thailand, UK, France, Germany, Australia

I joined the United Nations in 1991 and worked for UNESCO for 18 years.

I commenced my academic career in Australia by completing a Bachelor of Commerce Degree at the University of Melbourne, Victoria. I was on a scholarship from the Education Department of Victoria to become a secondary school teacher and so, after my degree at Melbourne, completed a Diploma of Education at Monash University, Melbourne. While working as a secondary school teacher I went on to study for a postgraduate Bachelor of Education degree at Monash University. During my BEd studies, one of my lecturers was Professor Peter Musgrave who had recently arrived from the UK – he lectured me on the sociology of education. With the encouragement of Professor Musgrave, I decided to undertake an MEd at the University of Bristol. Later, on my return to Australia, I undertook my PhD in Sociology of Education jointly at Monash University and the University of Tasmania, with Professor Peter Musgrave as my supervisor.

I chose to study at the Graduate School of Education because my lecturer at Monash University, Professor Peter Musgrave, recommended that I apply for Bristol, with a view to studying Sociology of Education with Professors William Taylor and Eric Hoyle, both eminent professors in the field. I believed that studying at Bristol would be good for my career and would open up many opportunities for me to become an academic, undertaking research in Sociology of Education. The Graduate School of Education also had staff working in the area of International Education and Education for Development and so, since my ultimate ambition was to work for UNESCO, I believed that studying at Bristol would assist in advancing my career goals in this regard.

I found the academic environment at Bristol very stimulating. This was partly because of the mix of students, which included students from Asia, Africa and from other parts of Europe. There were also some very interesting courses being taught – one of my favourites was the Methods of Inquiry course, to which most of the professors and other academic staff in the School of Education made contributions. I also met fellow students who have become lifelong friends, such as Margaret Wilkin. Studying in the Graduate School of Education opened my mind and my eyes to new areas of knowledge and learning, and to a wide range of career possibilities. It introduced me to people such as Professors Taylor and Hoyle who became my mentors and, as such, had a great impact on both my professional and personal life. Others who had an important impact on me were Senior Tutor Gordon Reddiford, lecturer Sandra Acker-Husbands – who was particularly interested in sexism within the sociology of education (her surname has since changed, I believe) – and Senior Lecturer in Educational Psychology David Satterly. Professor Taylor and Professor Hoyle became personal friends, and I am in touch with them to this day. They also helped me over the full span of my career, being referees for various positions I have applied for over the past 40 years.

After leaving the University of Bristol I became a lecturer at the Berkshire College of Education, Reading, for two years, lecturing on the sociology of education. The college was quite famous at that time since the Principal was James Porter, who had been involved with the James report on the reform of teacher education in England. I then returned to Australia to work in the Faculty of Education at the University of Tasmania, Hobart, as a Lecturer (and later Senior Lecturer) in the sociology of education. I joined the United Nations in 1991 and worked for UNESCO for 18 years, with postings in Myanmar (as Director of a project to upgrade teacher education), Bangkok (as Director of the Centre of Educational Innovation for Development), Paris (as Director of Secondary Education Reform), and Bonn (as Director of the UNESCO-UNEVOC International Centre for Technical and Vocational Education Training). I particularly enjoyed working with UNESCO in Afghanistan and Liberia, helping to educate demobilized youth soldiers and enabling them to attain gainful employment in civil society. I also enjoyed the work I did in Ganzu Province, China, increasing the participation rates of girls in schools and improving the quality and relevance of schooling they received.

When I retired from UNESCO in March 2009 I became Chair Professor of International Education at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. My work mainly involves research and writing on ‘UNESCO Type’ subjects, such as ways of promoting high quality education for all; the universalization of Primary Education; education for sustainable development; strengthening teacher education and education/ schooling for inclusive growth and the greening of economies, with particular reference to countries in Asia-Pacific such as the Asian giants, China and India. I promote this work through my research and writing, giving keynote addresses at various international conferences and through my consultancy work for organisations such as UNESCO, UNICEF and the Asian Development Bank. I was appointed an Officer in the Order of Australia (AO) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List on 13 June 2011. The award was for distinguished service of a high degree to humanity at large through my work as an international academic and professional working to improve education in developing countries, particularly through UNESCO.

My time at Bristol had a profound influence on my career. Meeting and studying with Professor Taylor and Professor Hoyle was the greatest single influence. I co-edited a Festschrift[1] for Professor Eric Hoyle with Dr David Johnson, University of Oxford and formerly Graduate School of Education, Bristol. In addition to Bristol making a great contribution to my intellectual development, my studies also helped me to develop an abiding interest in ways of overcoming inequality in education, education as a force for economic and social development and the great impact that teacher attitudes and behaviour have on the educational careers of students.

Where you choose to study is very important. In my case, I studied at the Graduate School of Education and this has been of great benefit to me throughout my whole career. The networks you build up with those who teach you, and with fellow students, are very important in both professional and personal terms. In my case, getting to know Professor William Taylor and Professor Eric Hoyle during my time as a student in Bristol has had a great impact on my professional career.

[1] David Johnson and Rupert Maclean (Eds.), (2008), Teaching:  Professionalization, Development and Leadership, Springer:  Dordrecht.