School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences

Staff Profiles

Professor James Tooley

Professor of Education Policy



Professor Tooley has published widely on the role of government in education. His particular focus is on the phenomenon of low-cost private schools in developing countries.

His book, "The Beautiful Tree: A personal journey into how the world’s poorest are educating themselves", published by Penguin, featured in several Indian non-fiction best-sellers lists in 2009. It has just been launched as a paperback and audio book (Cato Institute, Washington DC). The book builds on his ground-breaking research on private education for the poor in India, China and Africa, for which Tooley was awarded gold prize in the first International Finance Corporation/Financial Times Private Sector Development Competition. Following on from this, he was founding president of the Education Fund, Orient Global, living for two years in Hyderabad, India (on unpaid leave from the University), where he helped create a chain of low cost private schools and associated educational infrastructure.

He is co-founder and chairman of Omega Schools Franchise Ltd, a chain of low-cost private schools in Ghana. Its first two schools opened in 2009, and it has grown to 40 schools with 20,000 students, with significant investment from Pearson's Affordable Learning Fund. 

Tooley has also created embryonic chains of low-cost private schools in Sierra Leone and India. He is the patron of AFED - the Association of Formidable Educational Development - in Nigeria, an association of 3,000 low-cost private schools. 

Prior to joining Newcastle University, Professor Tooley previously taught and researched at the Universities of Oxford and Manchester, England; Simon Fraser University, Canada; and University of the Western Cape, South Africa. His PhD is from the Institute of Education, University of London. His first job was a mathematics high school teacher in Zimbabwe.

His work featured in a American PBS documentary, profiled alongside the work of Nobel Laureate Mohammed Yunus and Grameen Bank. It also featured in a documentary for BBC World and on BBC Newsnight. He has been described in the pages of Philanthropy magazine as “a 21st century Indiana Jones” travelling to “the remotest regions on Earth researching something that many regard as mythical: private, parent-funded schools serving the Third World poor.”

Roles and Responsibilities

Professor Tooley is Director of the E. G. West Centre.


PhD, 1994, Institute of Education, University of London
MSc, 1987, Science Policy Research Unit, University of Sussex
BSc, 1983, Logic and Mathematics, University of Sussex

Previous Positions

University of Manchester
University of Oxford
National Foundation for Educational Research


Adjunct Scholar, Cato Institute, from 2009
Advisory Board member, Transforming Business: International Journal of Enterprise Solutions to Poverty
Advisory Board member, Transforming Business: Enterprise Solutions to Poverty Programme, Judge Business School, University of Cambridge
President of four educational societies serving low cost private schools in India
Patron, Association of Formidable Educational Development, Nigeria
Adviser, Commonwealth Scholarship Commission, from Dec 2005
Member of Academic Advisory Council for the following thinks tanks: Reform (London), Civitas (London), Institute of Economic Affairs (London), Globalisation Institute (London), and the Edupreneurs Council of India (New Delhi).

Invited Member, QCA Curriculum and Assessment Committee, 1998 to 2003

Conference Organiser and Officer, Executive Committee, Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain, 1991 to 2003

Invited Member, Mont Pelerin Society, from 2003 (The Mont Pelerin Society is an invitation only elite group of social scientists, founded by F.A. Hayek and Milton Friedman in 1947, with 9 Nobel Prize Winners amongst its members).

Honours and Awards

2010 Sir Antony Fisher International Memorial Award, for The Beautiful Tree. Presented in Miami, Florida, 22nd April 2010.

Gold Prize Winner, 1st Financial Times/International Finance Corporation, Private Sector Development Research Paper Competition, Sep 2006, (presented at the Annual Governors’ Meeting of the IMF/World Bank, Singapore)

Article on “Private Schools for the Poor in Gansu Province” in Private Education Research won first prize in the 2007 academic essay competition of The Fourth China Educators’ Annual Conference (

Templeton Prize for Free Market Solutions to Poverty, 1st Prize, March 2006, (presented to the E.G. West Centre, Colorado Springs, USA)

Alexis de Tocqueville Award for the Advancement of Education Freedom, (presented in Warsaw, Poland, May 2007)

National Free Enterprise Award, (presented in Feb 2007, London, UK).

Google Scholar: Click here.


Research Interests

James’s main scholarly work is on the role of the state in education, and on private education, privatisation and public-private partnerships in developing countries and transition economies. He has directed numerous large-scale projects on low-cost private schools in developing countries, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, Orient Global Foundation and UBS Optimus.

Current Work

James's current research is focused on low cost private schools in Asia and Africa.

Future Research

Further research will continue to explore the role of the private sector in serving the educational needs of the poor.

Research Roles

James is Director of the E.G. West Centre.

Postgraduate Supervision

Postgraduate supervision is undertaken with students interested in markets in education, private schools in developing countries, regulatory issues concerning education, the history and philosophy of state intervention in education. Other areas for supervision considered.

Esteem Indicators

Top Four Esteem Indicators

(1) Gold Award Winner of the first Financial Times/International Finance Corporation 'Private Sector Development Research Paper Competition', presented in Singapore at the IMF/World Bank Annual Govenors' Meeting, 17th September 2006. The Research Paper summarised my work on private education for the poor in developing countries, under the title 'Educating Amaretch'.

(2) Founding President of the $100 million Orient Global Education Fund, specifically established in response to the above prize, to provide investment and philanthropic support to private schools for the poor in developing countries, 2007-09.

(3) 1st Prize Award, 2006 Templeton Freedom Prize for Excellence in in Promoting Liberty in Free market Solutions to Poverty, presented in Colorado springs, USA, April 2006; The 2007 Alexis de Toqueville Award for the Advancement of Educational Freedom, presented in Warsaw, May 2007; the 2007 National Free Enterprise Award, presented in London, March 2007.

(4) 2010 Sir Antony Fisher International Memorial Award, for The Beautiful Tree. Presented in Miami, Florida, 22nd April 2010.


Postgraduate Teaching

MEd (International Development and Education) pathway.
EDU8211 Education Policy for Development
EDU8212 Placement Module
EDU8214 Economics for Development