Dear Anh, what have you been doing before the CRC?
I moved here from London where I was working for the research consultancy Development Pathways. I mostly worked on issues related to inclusion and exclusion in social protection.
Who did you address with your results?
The agency is internationally oriented and most of the projects were commissioned by the UN and iNGOs: I worked with actors in the Global South, including providing advisory support to Government agencies and conducting research with local communities. I contributed to projects in several countries across East Africa and Asia.
Was that you first job after university?
Yes, I was working for Development Pathways for about five and a half years. Before that I was doing my master’s degree in Maastricht in public policy and human development. I was quite lucky to find a research-oriented role in the field of social protection, as this was the focus of my master's programme. I was specialising in social protection, policy design and financing.
What did you write your Master's thesis about?
I wrote about inequality of educational opportunities in Vietnam. I was inspired by having travelled to Vietnam and with my family being from there, and knowing how the education system is increasingly becoming more privatized or depending more on your private contributions to accessing education. That was what made me interested in looking closer at the drivers of these inequalities.
What have you found is driving this privatization trend and these inequalities in education?
While economic growth has led to reductions in overall poverty levels and increases in basic educational attainment, the market economy has become more pivotal in the provision of education in Vietnam. Interestingly, I did not find a significant difference between educational opportunities – in terms of quality of education and educational achievements - of students enrolled in public or private education. However, I did find that having educational and cultural resources at home played a role. Families’ welfare and their ability to access resources that stimulate their child’s school engagement therefore affected achievements at school. Moreover, students from rural highland areas, where more ethnic minorities reside, experienced more disadvantages. Other studies also found an increasing number of children in urban areas who are attending private classes or tutoring which leads to higher disparities between population groups.
Your background is social protection and education policy. How big is the shift for you now working for the CRC’s project A06, focusing on family policy?
The shift is not too big, actually. While education policy was the topic of my master’s thesis, its focus was mostly on equity and social exclusion. At Development Pathways, I focused on similar challenges of social exclusion but looked at how these can be addressed through social security. I looked at the potential for addressing income security across the entire life cycle - from childhood through to old age, including challenges of persons with disabilities. Within project A06 I will focus mostly on collecting data and assessing coverage and generosity of child benefits.
Child benefits are common in OECD countries/the Global North – how about the Global South?
Across the Global South there is quite a substantial number of countries that have some kind of child benefit, but they take a lot of different shapes and sizes. For example in some countries in Africa and Asia, there are social insurance provisions for families but with limited coverage of those in certain sectors of the formal labour market. An increasing number of countries are implementing - also influenced by global agenda setting - social cash transfers which support families, although they are often targeted at the entire household and determine eligibility based on poverty or vulnerability status. They were predominantly intended as poverty relief rather than an individual child benefit as we find it in most countries across the Global North.
Would you then exclude those countries from your exploration? I guess you would need to be very specific in defining what child benefits have to look like in order to keep the data comparable …
Well, that indeed is still the question. My predecessor Simone Tonelli has already looked at the historical legacies of child benefits and at the legislation. And he also looked at including quite a number of cash transfer programmes as well. For my thesis, I'm actually quite interested in looking at how these types of programmes have come about and what the influences of trans-national institutions on domestic policy-making had been. And from a gender perspective, I would like to look at how effective these programmes have been in terms of supporting families, supporting women, addressing the cost of childcare and if they are really effective in addressing social inclusion or if they are based on the traditional role of women as mothers and care-givers, which may pose barriers to their participation in work and the labour market.
How are you going about to collect the data? Can you use global databases via the internet or do you also have to travel and look at specific cases as well?
I am still at the stage of figuring that out. There is quite a lot to build on what my team has fed into WeSIS and there are datasets out there that try to measure indices of women's empowerment and the coverage and generosity of child benefits. But beyond the macro level, for my thesis I would like to use a mixed-methods approach, combining quantitative methods with qualitative case studies. That would allow me to delve a bit deeper also into intersectionalities of social inclusion and exclusion, i.e. whether in-/exclusion has to do with gender as well as your social position in society, income, ethnicity, caste or disability, for example.
That sounds pretty exciting!
May be a bit ambitious and I am sure I will have to narrow it down, but yes, I am excited.
Have you got any plans for the time after your PhD already?
The role that I had been in before was about implementing research projects, with a mix of advising and supporting governments and policy-making. I then made the move from consulting to the CRC because I was always drawn towards the research aspects of my work. And this is what I am focused on right now. In general, I am interested in how research intersects with policy-making. I am not yet sure in what capacity I would like to move forward but I am sure I will get an idea of that over the course of the PhD.