Felipe Barrera-Osorio

 Associate Professor of Education & Economics, Harvard Graduate School of Education


My Research


The main objective of my research is to study the effects of educational policies in developing countries. This agenda stands at the intersection of development economics and the economics of education. The main aim of the agenda is to formulate clear hypotheses about why a policy may work, create an intervention in conjunction with a government that can test the idea, measure and evaluate the impacts of the intervention, and, if successful, scale up the intervention.

My research has three common drivers. First, I work with the lens of an economist to analyze educational problems in developing countries. Second, I am interested in identifying causal effects of educational policies in K-12 schools and families with children at that age. Third, I focus on interventions with high potential for policy reform. I have worked directly with governments in Colombia, Argentina, Uganda, Cambodia, and Pakistan (among others). Several of my interventions, which started as pilots, have been scaled up at the local level.

I have two main areas of research: first, demand-side interventions to increase human capital investment, above and beyond effects on enrollment.  Second, private provision of public education and its effects on student achievement and educational distribution. 

Demand-side interventions. One of my research foci is to study demand-side interventions to increase human capital investment. Several studies with strong identification strategies (e.g. studies aiming to find causal effects) show that direct and indirect cost are a major deterrent to enrollment. Likewise, there is emerging evidence that the lack of information on the quality of education and its returns in the labor market distort household and individual investment decisions in education. My research expands the scope of these demand-side interventions to explore effects not only on enrollment, but on academic achievement, socioemotional outcomes, and labor outcomes. Currently I am involved in projects evaluating such interventions in Colombia and Cambodia.

Private Provision of Public Education. My second research focus is the private provision of public education. The share of students attending private schools in developing countries is increasing at a fast pace. Several governments in these countries are implementing Public-Private Partnerships (PPP) programs — a contract between the public and the private sectors based on some accountability metrics — with the objective of delivering good quality education to low-income households. I am interested in studying the causal effects of these programs on learning outcomes, as well as the implications of different design characteristics of contracts on the distribution of students across public schools and private institutions. I am involved in projects in Pakistan, Uganda and Colombia.


To find out more about my current and new projects, click here.