Robert Grant

Robert Grant


  • 1.07 ZICER Building

Personal profile


I have taught in the School of International Development at UEA since late 1999. My interest in development stems from the mid 1980s when I was studying for a maths degree in Bristol and active in the student ‘Third World’ society. After graduation I taught maths in secondary schools for seven years, two of them at a government school in rural Tanzania. These experiences left me with a strong interest in pedagogy, cemented my commitment to understanding development and convinced me that economics was where the most important questions lay. After returning to the UK I studied the subject to Masters level in London before coming to the UEA to begin a research degree.

Academic Background

My first degree in Mathematics was completed in 1987 at Bristol University and the following year I obtained a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (secondary mathematics) from the same institution. I also hold a Postgraduate Diploma in Economics (1997) and an MSc in Economics (1998) from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. My PhD on rural economic development in Tanzania (2011) was completed over a number of years while teaching in the School of International Development at UEA.

Teaching Interests


I am extremely interested in the theory and practice of education, fascinated by how people learn and continually looking to improve my own practice to better support this. This has led me to become involved with many different initiatives on approaches to teaching both within and beyond UEA. In particular I am drawn to constructivist theories of learning, the importance of affective factors in education, the value of learning by doing and the potential of new technologies in helping to transform higher education. On the other hand I have a great deal of sympathy for the arguments increasingly heard against reliance on the traditional lecture as the main format for university teaching.


I currently teach on the following undergraduate modules: Evidence in International Development, Quantitative Evidence in Development, Gender and Development and Macroeconomics of Development, convening the first two of these. In the taught postgraduate programme I run a ‘refresher’ course in Maths and Statistics and lecture on the Rural Policies and Politics module.

Key Research Interests

The over-arching theme and motivation of my research interests is a concern with market development in poor countries, along with its implications for the reduction of poverty and vulnerability, and the promotion of wealth creation.

While my disciplinary focus has been clearly economic however, the search to understand how markets are constituted and shaped has seen my research overlap with the conceptual and methodological approaches of other social sciences such as social anthropology and human geography.

Conceptually the dual notions of institutions and identity encompass much of my research. I seek to understand decision making at the small scale level of individuals by studying, for example, microenterprises like shop keeping or palm wine selling. In doing this my PhD research made extensive use of rational decision models and game theory, both standard tools of microeconomics. It also took serious account however of other social phenomena including gender, ideology, history, religion and witchcraft, which are less often considered within economics.

The potential contribution of recent advances in behavioural economics towards our ability to understand micro level decision making seems to me beyond dispute. However, I also consider that any interpretation of individual choice in such settings such as rural Tanzania is likely to remain inadequate unless it takes into account the strategic constraints imposed by multiple, pre-existing and rule-bearing relationships within which individuals must act; in other words, the role of social institutions and the particular identities of actors within these institutions.

My concern with social institutions and choice of conceptual tools led me to adopt a mixed methods design for my Tanzanian study. I am highly interested both in quantitative and qualitative research approaches, as well as in their complementarities.

It seems to me that an elementary but too often neglected precondition for effective policy design is to understand existing processes of economic development clearly. By studying the rural economy in the context of evolving social institutions I seek to contribute to a stronger basis for policymaking in areas such as rural development, infrastructure provision and market governance. I am also interested in longer term trends such as urbanisation and deagrarianisation, along with their implications for policy.

My main geographical focus so far has been Sub-Saharan Africa, especially East Africa and Tanzania in particular. The title of my thesis was Institutions, Non-Farm Business and Accumulation in Kipatimu Village, South East Tanzania.

Administrative Posts

As chair of the school’s undergraduate exam board since 2010, I have overseen the introduction of reforms intended to enhance fairness and transparency. Most notably, the board has pioneered the use of anonymous decision making at UEA for all final degree recommendations. I was also a member of the university working group on extenuating circumstances and extensions for the recently introduced New Academic Framework.

From 2014 I have taken on the role of school teaching director, with particular responsibility for postgraduate taught courses.

Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 9 - Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure