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CEHD and U of M Word Marks


330 Wulling Hall
86 Pleasant Street SE
Minneapolis, MN 55455

Fax: 612-624-3377

Undergraduate Studies:

Graduate Studies:



Frances Vavrus

Associate professor; Interim department chair (Feb-Aug); Director of graduate studies

Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1998
M.A., University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1991
B.A., Purdue University, 1987

Org Leadership, Policy & Dev
410K WullH
86 Pleasant St S E
Tel: 612/625-5663

Download Curriculum Vitae [PDF]

Areas of Interest

Comparative and international education
Education and population change
Gender and development
International development policy and practice
Secondary and teacher education in Sub-Saharan Africa


I joined the faculty in the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development (OLPD) 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. I was a tenured associate professor in the programs in comparative and international educational development and associate director of the Center for African Education. Before assuming my position at Teachers College, I was an Andrew Mellon/Takemi Postdoctoral Fellow in anthropological demography at the Harvard School of Public Health. I hold a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (major field: education; minor fields: African history and educational policy studies), an M.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (major field: TESOL/applied linguistics; minor field: African studies), and a B.A. from Purdue University (major field: psychology; minor field: political science).

My research and teaching are in the fields of comparative and international education and international development, and my principal interest lies in exploring how schooling is situated in these fields as a solution to a host of complex development 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 life course 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 taught a summer course on ‘development in practice for U.S. graduate students on several occasions. At present, I am involved in a teacher education program for Tanzanian secondary school teachers and teacher educators as well as research examining the cultural politics of pedagogical reform in Africa within the context of international development.

In addition to research and teaching, I am also actively involved in the Comparative and International Education Society and serve as an advisory board member for the Comparative Education Review. At the University of Minnesota, I am involved in international development as an affiliate of the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change, the Minnesota Population Center, and the Office of International Programs' Advisory Committee on Africa.

Most recently, I have received the McKnight Presidential Fellow Award. The award is supported through the McKnight Presidential Endowed Chairs Fund, which recognizes accomplishments and supports ongoing research and scholarship among the University’s most promising faculty at critical stages in their careers. Selection criteria include an identification by internal and external reviewers as leaders in their field; potential to build programs that will be in the top tier internationally; ability to advance University priorities; and growing national or international reputation. I intend to use this generous support to extend my research on the global politics of education in Africa.

Selected Honors

  • Co-Principal Investigator for Strengthening Educational Performance Up  Zambia: USAID project with Professor David Chapman (2012-2016)
  • Comparative Education Review, Advisory Board Member (2008–present)
  • 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)
  • Comparative and International Education Society, Annual Meeting Program Co-chair (2007–2008)
  • 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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. DeJaeghere, J., & Vavrus, F. (2011, Fall).  Educational formations: Gendered experiences of schooling in local contexts. Guest editors for special issue of Feminist Formations, 23(3).

  5. Vavrus, F., & Seghers, M. (2010). Critical discourse analysis in comparative education: A discursive study of ‘partnership’ in Tanzania’s poverty reduction policies. Comparative Education Review, 54(1), 77-103.

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

  7. 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.

  8. Vavrus, F. (2006). Girls’ schooling in Tanzania: The key to HIV/AIDS prevention? AIDS Care, 18(8), 863-871.

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

  10. Vavrus, F. (2003). Desire and decline: Schooling amid crisis in Tanzania. Peter Lang Publishing.

  11. Updated March 2013