How And Why Universal Primary Education Was Selected As A Millennium Development Goal: A Case Study

  • Edmond Maher

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Education (EdD)


Between 2000 and 2015 the Millennium Development Goals were the focus of much global attention and activity. They were selected in light of astounding poverty, with over 1 billion people at the time living on less than $1 per day. In a sense the MDGs were morally undeniable.The focus of this study is MDG2, universal primary education. It sets out to establish how and why MDG2 came to be selected. Whilst its selection seems obvious, for years developing countries complained about the short-sightedness of prioritising primary over secondary and tertiary education (Klees 2008). A task force commissioned by the World Bank and UNESCO at the time showed that the Bank’s rate of return analysis on primary education was flawed. It argued that developing countries need highly educated people to be economic and social entrepreneurs, develop good governance, strong institutions and infrastructure. In this way MDG2’s selection is problematic.Using case study method, first the literature is examined. Three hypotheses are generated: one based on a rational synoptic theory, one on critical theory and one on world society theory. A range of data are used to establish findings and test hypotheses. The study then considers implications of the findings for theory and the policy process.The findings show that priorities promoting more equal opportunities, such as MDG2, were gradually preferred. Whereas priorities promoting more equal outcomes, such as elimination of trade barriers, were gradually excluded. The study finds no evidence that the General Assembly ever voted on the list of 8 MDGs. Rather, the MDGs were selected by elite policy actors, addressing multiple interests. The study considers the assertion that marginalization of the poor does not happen because people harbor ill will toward them, rather because “The poor have no friends among the global elite” (Pogge 2011, p. 62).
Date of Award8 Jan 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorManuel Souto-Otero (Supervisor) & Hugh Lauder (Supervisor)


  • education
  • policy
  • UN
  • millennium development goals
  • universal primary education
  • united nations
  • sustainable development goals
  • MDGs
  • SDGs
  • millennium summit
  • world bank
  • IMF
  • development economics
  • development policy
  • poverty
  • poverty, work and justice
  • MDG2
  • millennium development goal 2
  • case study
  • rational synoptic theory
  • critical theory
  • world society theory

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