Nick Barr, June 2016

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Nicholas Barr

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Position: Professor of Public Economics

Research Interests: Economic theory of the welfare state, social insurance, pensions, health finance, the finance of higher education.

Summary biography: Nicholas Barr FRSA has an MSc in Economics from the London School of Economics and a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, where he was a Fulbright Scholar. He is Professor of Public Economics at the London School of Economics, writing widely on topics relating to the welfare state, including 130 papers in scholarly journals and edited volumes, and over twenty books, including The Economics of the Welfare State (6th edition, 2020), Pension Reform: A Short Guide (with Peter Diamond) (2010, also in Chinese and Spanish), and Financing Higher Education: Answers from the UK (with Iain Crawford), (2005). The heart of his work is an exploration of how market failures can both explain and justify the existence of welfare states. He is a member of the Editorial Board of the International Social Security Review and an Associate Editor of CESifo Economic Studies, the Australian Economic Review and the Journal of the Economics of Ageing.

Alongside teaching and research is wide-ranging involvement in policy. He worked at the World Bank from 1990-1992 on the design of income transfers and health finance in Central and Eastern Europe and Russia, and from 1995-1996 as one of the authors of the World Bank's World Development Report 1996: From Plan to Market. He has been a Visiting Scholar at the Fiscal Affairs Department at the International Monetary Fund, a member of the World Economic Forum Global Agenda Councils on Demographic Shifts and on Ageing Society and a member of the governing bodies of HelpAge International and the Pensions Policy Institute.

Since the mid 1980s he has been active in the debate about financing higher education, advocating a system of income-contingent student loans collected alongside income tax or social security contributions. In the UK, he argued for many years for tuition fees fully covered by income-contingent loans, and he and his colleague Iain Crawford have been described as the architects of the 2006 reforms in England. He led the team that designed the student loan system in Hungary and has advised governments in Australia, New Zealand and Chile. His impact case study (top-rated in the UK 2014 Research Excellence Framework), can be found here and the associated video here. In 2017-18 he was a Specialist Adviser to the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee for their Report on Treating Students Fairly: The Economics of Post-School Education.

He is also involved in pensions policy. He was a member of a small group invited to advise the government of China on pension reform, presenting their findings to the Premier in 2004; and he and Peter Diamond presented a follow-up report in 2009. More recently, he was a member of a Presidential Commission on Reform of the Pension System in Chile which presented its report in 2015. He has also advised governments in the UK, China, Finland, Sweden and South Africa (where he also contributed to the Lund Committee on Child and Family Support).

A range of academic and policy writing can be found on

Activities outside academic life include family, travel, photography, membership of Middlesex County Cricket Club and involvement in opposing an ill-considered planning application in his home village.

A photograph of Nick Barr in higher resolution can be downloaded from here.

Updated: 20 February 2021

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