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carol barker

Carol Barker, BSc, PhD

As, sadly, many members will already know, Dr Carol Barker, former Senior Lecturer in the Nuffield Centre for International Health and Development of the Leeds Institute of Health Sciences, died on 24th October 2012.  The following obituary has been written by Professor Andrew Green. 

Carol Barker joined the University in 1979 having been recruited to set up the International Division of the then Nuffield Centre for Health Service Studies.   The Division had been formed in response to a request by the Overseas Development Administration (ODA) (now DfID) to develop the first course in health management and planning in the UK for mature health managers from developing countries, and the first cohort of 16 students started in 1980.  The International Division, which Carol led for many years, started with three academic staff and two administrative staff but over time and under Carol’s wise leadership, increased in size by adding further postgraduate courses to its teaching portfolio, conducting research and undertaking consultancy.  Her style of open and inclusive management set a culture for decision-making which remains a hallmark of the group.  Today, the national and international standing of the Nuffield Centre for International Health and Development (the successor to the International Division), is a testimony to the vision of Dr Barker.  One indicator of this healthy growth is the number of alumni, which currently stands at 1,600, many of whom were taught by Carol.

During her time at the University she not only set up the Nuffield Centre’s international activities, but also played a major role in the development of the wider Centre for Development Studies and its associated Master’s programmes, including serving as its director for a period.  Her commitment to the University also led her to positions as Dean of the Faculty of Economic and Social Studies (1988-90) and Acting Director of the wider Nuffield Institute from 1987-89.  In all these positions she showed vision and leadership in recognising the importance of bringing multidisciplinary perspectives to bear on the underlying causes of, and solutions to, underdevelopment. Collaboration, rather than competition, was an important tenet in her approach to academic and professional life and she was instrumental in setting up, in the early 80s, a network of like-minded academics within the UK with an interest in promoting social justice in developing countries through the strategy of Primary Health Care which had been adopted by the World Health Organisation about the same time that that she joined Leeds. 

Dr Barker came to the University with an eclectic background which served her well. Her first degree in plant botany was followed by a PhD in plant biochemistry, both taken at University College, London. However her keen interest in development, which stemmed from a wider interest in social inequalities, had led her to take a lecturing post at the Centre for Development Studies at the University of Dar es Salaam in 1973, followed by a period in the newly independent Government of Mozambique, as a pharmaceutical policy advisor in the Ministry of Health.  Both these positions came at times of particular interest in these countries in the development of African forms of post-colonial socialism and reflected her commitment to social justice.  The Mozambique position gave her insights into the processes of policy formation in the health sector which remained an area of specialisation for Carol for the rest of her professional life.  It allowed her the opportunity to use her scientific training in the pursuit of health policy goals and introduced her to the complexities of realpolitik in the health field; health policy processes and analysis rapidly became her field of specialisation.  When asked about this shift in perspective she would describe herself as a crab that achieved its forward objectives by subtle moves sideways.  She published in the area of policy and planning, and in particular was one of the first authors to recognise and develop the specialism of health policy analysis with her seminal book on The Health Care Policy Process becoming a major student and professional text for many years.  Her academic work always drew on her wider professional experience which stemmed from these early days and which was constantly refreshed and enriched by her wide ranging consultancy and research in a number of countries both during her days at Leeds and subsequently.  Her particular forte was in solving policy problems identified by and with governments and NGOs where she deployed her sharp and insightful thinking and analysis. She was a member of the editorial board of a number of journals which stemmed from and fed the growing interest in the 1980s and subsequently in health policy and systems, and also of wider development journals such as the Review of African Political Economy.  All of these activities reflected her belief that universities had a responsibility to pursue social justice and to marry theoretical developments with empirical research which was grounded in the realities of the day to day lives of the disadvantaged.  Indeed she recognised the importance of finding space within universities for courses which allowed health professionals to explore the realities of their work environment drawing on academic concepts and theories.  She was fond of reminding students that there was nothing as practical as a good theory. 

Her continued interest in making a difference on the ground to the health systems of developing countries led her to take leave from the University to head a major health project in Malawi and, after her formal retirement in 2003, she undertook a number of both long-term and short-term assignments in places as diverse as Nigeria, Pakistan, Nepal, and Vietnam.  Colleagues who worked with her in these assignments have remarked not only on her professional analytical skill but also on her clear desire and ability to develop warm relationships with staff working long-term in these organisations.

Carol had been living in Nepal until April this year when she relocated back to Leeds in large part due to a desire to be close to her daughter Kiza.  Sadly, Carol contracted an infection in the summer which proved untreatable and Kiza and Kiza’s father Shubi were with her when she died in hospital on 24 October 2012.  Her funeral took place on 9 November and was attended by, amongst others, a number of former and current colleagues from the University – an indication of the continuing affection and respect in which she is held.