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206 Burton Hall
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Undergraduate Studies:

Graduate Studies:


Frances Vavrus


178 Pillsbury Dr SE
255 Burton Hall


Download Curriculum Vitae [PDF]

Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison
M.A., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
B.A., Purdue University


Areas of Interest

Comparative and International Education
Anthropology of Development
Post/colonial History of Education in Africa
Comparative Case Studies
Ethnography and Personal Narrative


I joined the OLPD faculty in August 2008, where I serve in the Comparative and International Development Education (CIDE) program. Prior to my appointment at the University of Minnesota, I was a faculty member at Teachers College, Columbia University for eight years and an Andrew Mellon/Takemi Postdoctoral Fellow in Anthropological Demography at the Harvard School of Public Health.

My research and teaching are in the fields of comparative and international education and development studies, and my principal interest lies in exploring how schooling is situated in these fields as a solution to a host of complex social problems. By looking historically at the cultural, economic, and political bases of arguments to bolster schooling for certain segments of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa—my primary geographical area of interest—I seek to advance understanding of the transformative potential of education as well as its limitations. My research is informed primarily by the disciplines of anthropology, history, and political science (especially international relations), and my principal work uses an ethnographic approach to explore how people make sense of educational development narratives that emerge from local, national, and international interactions. I also conduct research that utilizes critical discourse analysis and survey methods to address, respectively, questions regarding poverty reduction policies and the long-term impact of secondary schooling on the lives of African youth. My longitudinal ethnographic and survey research focuses on the Kilimanjaro Region of northern Tanzania, where I have intermittently lived, taught, and studied since 1992. I have been a teacher at the secondary and tertiary levels in the region, and I have been involved in a teacher education program for Tanzanian secondary school teachers and teacher educators at Mwenge Catholic University in Moshi, Tanzania. In addition to working with this higher education institution in Tanzania, I was the co-principal investigator on a USAID-funded project in Zambia working with faculty at colleges and universities to conduct policy-relevant research and have been serving as a consultant to the Open Society Foundations’ Education Support Program on a project with the Malawian Ministry of Education to improve their pre-service teacher education curriculum.

Selected Honors

  • Fulbright Specialist Roster: U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Institute of International Education’s Council for International Exchange of Scholars (2016-present)
  • Appointment to the Joint ILO/UNESCO Committee of Experts on the Application of the Recommendations Concerning Teaching Personnel (CEART) (2013-present - This committee reviews reports of serious problems facing teachers and the teaching profession around the world and makes recommendations to resolve them.)
  • Marty and Jack Rossman Award for outstanding teaching, research, and service University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development (2015)
  • Chair, Publications Committee, Comparative and International Education Society (2013-2015)
  • Co-Principal Investigator for Strengthening Educational Performance Up  Zambia: USAID project with Professor David Chapman (2012-2016)
  • Residential Fellow, Institute for Advanced Study, University of Minnesota (2012)
  • McKnight Presidential Fellow, University of Minnesota (2009-2012)
  • Robert Beck Faculty Teaching Award, College of Education and Human Development (2011)
  • Comparative and International Education Society, Elected Board Member (2007-2010)
  • Fulbright Scholars Fellowship (Tanzania) (2006-2007)
  • Joyce Cain Award for Outstanding Research, Comparative and International Education Society (2006)
  • Excellence in Teaching Award, Teachers College (2001, 2004)
  • Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship in Anthropological Demography, Harvard School of Public Health, Harvard University (1999–2001)

Professional Affiliations

Selected Publications

  1. Bartlett, L., & Vavrus, F. (2017). Rethinking case study research: A comparative approach. New York and London: Routledge.

  2. Vavrus, F. (2016). Topographies of power: Critical historical geography in the study of education in Tanzania. Comparative Education 52(2), 136-156.

  3. Bartlett, L., & Vavrus, F. (2016). A vertical case study of global policy-making: Early grade literacy in Zambia. In K. Mundy, A. Green, R. Lingard, & A. Verger (Eds.), Handbook of global policy and policy-making in education (pp. 554-572). London: Wiley Blackwell.

  4. Vavrus, F. (2015). More clever than the devil: Ujanja as schooling strategy in Tanzania. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 28(1), 50-71.

  5. Vavrus, F., & Pekol, A. (2015). Critical internationalization: Moving from theory to practice. FIRE: Forum for International Research in Education 2(2), 5-21.

  6. Bartlett, L., & Vavrus, F. (2014). Transversing the vertical case study: Methodological approaches to studies of educational policy-as-practice. Anthropology and Education Quarterly 45(2), 131-147.

  7. Vavrus, F., & Kwauk, C. (2013). The new abolitionists? The World Bank and the ‘boldness’ of global school fee elimination reforms. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 34(3), 351-365.

  8. Vavrus, F., & Bartlett, L. (Eds.). (2013). Teaching in tension: International pedagogies, national policies, and teachers’ practices in Tanzania. Pittsburgh Studies in Comparative and International Education Series. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

  9. Vavrus, F., & Bartlett, L. (2012). Comparative pedagogies and epistemological diversity: Social and materials contexts of teaching in Tanzania. Comparative Education Review, 56(4), 634-658.

  10. Vavrus, F., Thomas, M., & Bartlett, L. (2011). Ensuring quality by attending to inquiry: Learner-centered pedagogy in Sub-Saharan Africa. Addis Ababa: UNESCO-International Institute for Capacity Building in Africa.

  11. Vavrus, F., & Bartlett, L. (Eds.) (2009). Critical approaches to comparative education: Vertical case studies from Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and the Americas. Palgrave Macmillan.

  12. Vavrus, F. (2009). The cultural politics of constructivist pedagogies: Teacher education reform in the United Republic of Tanzania. International Journal of Educational Development, 29(3), 303-311.

  13. Vavrus, F. (2007/2003). Desire and decline: Schooling amid crisis in Tanzania. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.

  14. Vavrus, F. (2005). Adjusting inequality: Education and structural adjustment programs in Tanzania. Harvard Educational Review, 75(2), 174-201.

  15. Updated February 6, 2017