Remembering Tom Alexander

Thomas J. Alexander was deeply engaged with the entire span of education, from early childhood to tertiary education. His insistence on linking social justice with quality in education, research, and policy challenged and inspired us all. He died January 22, 2012, after a brave struggle with cancer.

Tom was involved with the Open Society Foundations for over 13 years. He was chairman of the General Education Sub-Board, trustee of the Open Society Foundation London, and on the Advisory Board of the Open Society Early Childhood Program. He was also a member of the Executive Committee of the Higher Education Sub-Board of the Open Society Institute until 2008.

Tom’s career began in the British Diplomatic Service as an Arabic linguist, serving in the Lebanon, Kuwait, Libya and the Sudan. Tom was also a specialist in multilateral economic relations with the former Communist countries.  He participated in the negotiations on the framework of the Conference for Security and Co-operation in Europe and in other landmark international events.

In 1974, he joined the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development as special assistant to the secretary general and then worked as head of the Private Office of the Secretary General. In 1989 he was made director for Education, Employment, Labour and Social Affairs and director of the OECD Centre for Educational Research and Innovation. Tom was responsible for launching the OECD's work on International Education Indicators, the popular OECD publication "Education at a Glance" and its companion volume, "Education Policy Analysis," as well as the Programme for International Student Assessment. He instituted across the directorate a series of comparative country reviews in education, labor market, and social policy that have become major tools of policy analysis and advice for governments worldwide.  He was a leading player in launching the OECD Jobs Study and the work that ensued. Tom retired from the OECD in February 2000.

Just before Tom's retirement, George Soros appointed him to the General Education Sub-Board in 1999. In the same year he was nominated senior research fellow at the Department of Educational Studies at the University of Oxford. From this time Tom consulted for numerous governments, worked with the World Bank and other international agencies, also sitting on a range of international boards and committees, too numerous to list.

Tom was a great personality and a true leader—totally non-authoritarian and unselfish. His leadership at the Open Society Foundations was consistently unobtrusive, and yet he was always available to explore solutions and provide support. Erika Dailey, deputy director of Programs at the Open Society Foundations, wrote that we have lost “a close friend, ally, inspiration, and true giant. It was a privilege to have glimpsed Tom in his glory, guiding your lively and complex discussions, with his steady hand on the tiller, a force to be reckoned with.” It’s hard to find better words.

For the Education Support Program, Tom was somehow able to combine toughness with deep humanity, flexibility with rigor, knowledge with humility and principle with an intuition for when a moment was right. He was a master of good counsel and sound strategy. We shall miss him profoundly.

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I received news of Tom's passing last night from an old and dear colleague. I wish to express my deepest sympathies to Tom's family at this time. I sit quietly and sadly, fondly remembering my time working with Tom between 2000 and 2008. Thank you, Hugh, for writing such a thoughtful and accurate goodbye.

Over thirteen yeas, Tom provided unfailing and consistent support to the ESP. He was a man of great professional and moral integrity and he was a dear friend to many of us in the ESP.

I met Tom in Budapest in 1999 when Cameron Harrison brought him to the Open Society network. I remember Tom vividly from our first meeting—he and Pam joined us from the ESP at a dinner. He was one of those people you learn to respect from the very beginning. Tom was just the same gentleman, a man of great presence, fine humour, passion for education, commitment to policy change based on solid evidence, sharp analytical skills and very good listening skills at our first meeting as the person I had become to know over the many years we worked together and became friends.

Tom brought his broad expertise from the OECD to the Open Society education network. He introduced the PISA study to many of us and encouraged us to think more about educational outcomes and less on inputs. He always advocated for the OSI to be brave and have an aspiring vision for the role of education for individuals and for societies. I will always remember him talking through his slides full of charts and discussing what we can learn from comparative studies. These were always followed by lively discussions on what features of education systems can be transferred and to what extent a local/national context, culture, economy, history and religion play a role in education change.

We usually continued these debates later on at dinners, with some good red wine. Tom was not just a well-respected Chair he was a connoisseur of fine dining. He was the person you wanted to sit next to at the dinner table. Every time we tried to catch up on our personal lives, families. Tom was very proud of his children and he talked very fondly of his grandchildren.

Tom helped the ESP in several transformations and he was guiding us in many important strategic decisions. We admired his chairing skills—the way he managed to pull together sometime loose ends of a long discussion, he showed an insight and understanding of local contexts, he added a sharp analytical commentary and provided a useful and practical advice to a specific project. He was very much respected by everyone in the ESP. He treated everyone with kindness and understanding. We all appreciated his patience and especially his total absence

Last time I saw Tom was in Montreal at the CIES conference last May. He was looking well and he was just the 'old' Tom. It's been couple years since we saw each other. I said how very glad I was to see him again and the sentence suddenly had a double meaning. It was not just the passing time but also his illness that made our reunion so special. Tom felt strong and believed he had won the battle. He told me how much he owned to his wife Pam for her care while he was at the hospital. He said "I would not be here if Pam would not be by my side". He expressed his belief she had saved his life. Unfortunately, even Pam wasn't able to help Tom to win this last battle.

I am still trying to come in terms with Tom's passing away. I shall always fondly remember him.

My sincere condolences to Pam and family.

Jana Huttova

former ESP Director

Although we knew Tom was not doing well, the news of his passing left us all in shock, as knowing Tom we knew he would not go without a battle. It is with great sadness that we need to accept that some battles are not winnable, as we are sure Tom knew. We would like to express our deepest condolences to his wife and family; we hope that knowing how many people and institutions he has touched will bring them some comfort.

There were so many things one could have learnt from Tom and NEPC was privileged from the onset of our organization to have had this opportunity. Tom‰Ûªs advice was never authoritarian and always sound, it was tough yet gentle, it was generous while not being overbearing. He faced problems head on and made us do the same; he expected us to give our best and always gave us his best. Is there more we could have had from our mentor who turned into our ally and friend? We at NEPC will remember and honor Tom for his undoubted influence on our organization by continuing to do our very best for the values and goals we shared.

Personally, I will cherish his memory and enjoy life and all it brings as Tom did.

Lana Jurko, on behalf of NEPC

NEPC is the Network of Education Policy Centres; it has 23 member organisations from 20 countries in Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, most of which are education programme spin-offs from the Open Society Foundations in these countries. Tom set the bar high for them and took delight when they cleared it.

A great mind, huge heart, keen intellect and the perfect gentleman, to be always remembered with a sad yet tender smile.

Tom spearheaded several significant transformations of OSI‰Ûªs educational programs, notably the shift from a regionally operating pioneer NGO in the former Soviet Union to a global network of innovative project implementers, grant givers, researchers and out-of-the box thinkers. Under his guidance, the close bond to universities, think tanks, and professional associations was knit. His contributions are many and only surpassed by the large number of colleagues and friends that will miss his wisdom and kindness.

Gita Steiner-Khamsi, Professor (Teachers College, Columbia University, New York) and Past President of the Comparative and International Education Society (CIES)

The Education profession worldwide has suffered a great loss with the passing on of Tom Alexander.
Tom's humility may have prevented him from counting the numbers of people whose work he impacted, but the world must be told that thousands of education practitioners have greatly benefited from Tom's work on education. For example, his work on international education indicators, particularly, "Education at a Glance" was an invaluable ammunition to education activists, especially, those of us in the developing world, as we waged the many wars for our children's' right to education.
Having had the privilege to work with Tom in the OSI General Education Sub Board, which he chaired most ably, I could only admire his wisdom, deep knowledge and exceptional skills at steering complex issues with a great sense of inclusiveness, respect, warmth and desire to make everybody feel their contributions were valued in the pursuit of education rights for the underprivileged.
As we mourn his loss, we will forever be inspired by Toms' life and cherish his exceptional contribution to our world, as a professional and a person.
May his soul rest in eternal peace.
Penina Mlama(Prof)
University of Dar es salaam Tanzania.

Thank you, Penina, for this beautiful tribute.

It was a joy and honor to meet Tom through the Advisory Board of the Early Childhood Programme. I am deeply saddened by his passing. I remember wonderful moments when his wise words helped us perceive the essence of challenging tasks ahead and motivated us to see the larger context of our work. Ever dedicated to education and child development, Tom was selfless and continued to serve other to the end. He never "retired," and as such, he became a true role model for all of us. I join others in saying that we shall miss his kindness, warmth, brilliant mind and subtle understanding of the world. I feel truly privileged to have known him.
Emily Vargas-Baron

I still cannot completely comprehend the fact that Tom has gone. But, like his family and I will have to learn to go on without him. Even I no longer work for ESP/OSF, I always have in mind his guidance, wisdom and counsel. When in doubt, I try to think what would Tom say. The OSF work on promoting education inclusion and quality in South East Europe would not have been so successful without his vision and a great patience in helping us to sharpen the focus. We did have our professional arguments, which sometimes made me upset, but always led to a more productive and effective work largely due to Tom's sharp mind, knowledge and vast experience.

At the last GESB meeting I attended as ESP staff (April, 2011) Tome bode me good bye with a promise to more 'fights' in the future. I am deeply sorry that he could not keep this promise.

Gordana Miljevic
Program Manager
Center for Education Policy, Belgrade, Serbia
Former Senior Program Manager at ESP/OSF

It has been a great privilege and pleasure to have worked with Tom in the last 5 years on the Board of the Education Support programme of the Open Society Foundations, which he chaired so expertly. Tom was firm, principled and rigorous. He chaired inclusively and with great humor and did not avoid difficult issues. His educational insights and wealth of experience were a gift to our work, and I will miss him greatly.

As a friend it was allays a highlight of meetings that went over several days to have a meal with him - and to defer to his huge knowledge and appreciation of wine. I loved to talk to him about the latest mystery he was reading, hear him talk with such pleasure and pride of his family and especially of the grandchildren. The best was always the fund of anecdotes and experiences from an immensely rich life - the years he and Pam lived in Paris, in the Middle East, and some of the memorable trips. And always - the pride in his Scottishness!

It has been an additional privilege to have been able to meet Pam in recent trips. This was a rare partnership. My thought are with you, pam, and the much beloved family.

Tom knew each and every one of us at ESP. He shared generously of himself, his mind, his vast professional and life experiences, and always his quiet penetrating smile. He was available for conversation and communicated with a joyful presence that I will always remember. He'll be sorely missed. Condolences to his extraordinary wife Pam, who was often with us, his children, and grandchildren.

To overcome the loss of a great friend is always hard, since no one can replace him in our lives.

Tom was a unique person, a true gentleman, a scholar of global renown, and an internationally recognized expert in all matters he pursued in his life; he was a true professional, a great critical thinker, a great colleague and a great friend. Anything I can think of to attribute to Tom is prefaced with the word "great", since he was great person and excellent human being. I am deeply sorry that he left us so soon and so saddened, and very sorry that we will not have a chance to hear his voice, to enjoy his company, to learn from his wisdom and to listen his great stories anymore.

I think I have been exceptionally privileged to know him for few past years, and I thank God for this sole chance. He has been a wealth of knowledge and humanity. And he was exceptionally organized person. Knowing him was unique opportunity to learn from his endless experience, extremely deep knowledge and expertise. I always listened to him attentively as a student and always learnt so many things from him that I would never learn anywhere else. He always was very keen to share his knowledge and his thoughts and he was very eager to hear other thoughts as well, he always made everyone comfortable. He was exceptionally patient but intolerant of falsehood.

A grand humanist, always ready to help; he always thought about those who need help and made sure that the help was there for them soonest. He has been true leader, true educator to all of us who knew him, worked with him or even met him only once.

He will be always in our hearts and our thoughts - our great friend Tom, our great teacher.

Zuhra Halimova

Member of GESB

Executive Director of OSIAF-Tajikistan

It is with great shock and sadness that I learn of the passing of Tom Alexander, one of the greatest education visionaries to have ever lived. I had the privilege of interacting with him when I worked on the education program at OSISA, and would attend meetings of the GESB that he ably chaired. He was among the people who helped us pioneer some very interesting education initiatives in southern Africa. I found him to be a man of extraordinary intellect, poise and maturity, who was firm in expressing his points and yet very well balanced. He was a great leader and mentor. I must say the education fraternity worldwide has lost a great person. Condolences to his family, to ESP and OSI.

Grace Kaimila-Kanjo

Chief Operating Officer,

Africa Capacity Building Foundation

Former Education Programme Manager and Deputy Director at OSISA

It's very difficult to find appropriate words to express our deepest grief overwhelming us with the passing on of Tom Alexander. We were shocked with this news and would like to express our condolences to his family, friends and colleagues. For me it has been great privilege and honor to know him personally. For us Tom was fatherly kind person and every single minute of relationship with him would be always remaining in our memory.

I am deeply saddened to hear Tom's passing away :(( While I have known him professionally for some time, it was an immense pleasure to get to know his wife Pam and him better while we were all in Montreal this past year. Tom combined intellect with charm and good humor and generously shared his wisdom with all of us. In this moment, before this cruelest reality of our lives, I try to remember the joy and privilege of getting to know Tom. Though nothing will make up for his loss, I think one way we can remember him is to sustain our dedicated efforts for social justice in education and make sure we seek common sense and evidence in the way we do it.

Batuhan Aydagul

Coordinator, Education Reform Initiative

I've worked with the Education Support Programme, the board of which Tom chaired, for four and a half years. This, and being based in the OSF London office, meant that I had the opportunity to see Tom regularly. Many people have mentioned, among other things, his intellect, his warmth, his sound strategic mind. I certainly agree with all this. On a professional level, what continually struck me about Tom was his capacity to understand an issue very quickly, whether a project, a partner, an opportunity. And his ability to cut to the chase was impressive, revealing not only a sharp intellect but a political astuteness, the likes of which I rarely seen. He picked out what mattered, let pass what didn't. As a colleague I always appreciated that he gave what he expected; very high standards. Yet his expectations of others were always clothed in real humanity and he allowed people to be themselves, demonstrating a genuine respect for people. On a personal level, well, Tom was just great company. Amazing anecdotes of a life truly lived to the full, soaked through with good humour and garnished with a warm smile and a conspiratorial wink. Tom's passing is not cruel, not violent, not unjust, not tragic, but so, so, so sad. What a man.

Ian Macpherson

Deputy Director

Education Support Programme

Like Penina, Mary and Zuhra, I have had the great privilege of serving on the GESB under Tom's leadership for the past few years. We have all lost a dear friend, a great man, and someone from whom we have learnt a huge amount. The sheer depth and breadth of his knowledge was astonishing, and his experience of working over many decades with governments and international organisations meant that his wisdom and judgement were unsurpassed. GESB has been a happy and effective Board under his leadership. Every time I met Tom I felt I had learnt something new, and always cherished it because I knew that, of all the people I have ever met, Tom was one of the most fearless, honest and generous.

It was a privilege to work with him, to learn from him and to enjoy his company through many pleasant evenings at Board dinners. It has also been a joy to get to know Pam. I too will miss him deeply, and will cherish his memory.

The big education heart of Tom Alexander

For me the news of Tom's death was a sudden blow. The last time we talked was last Fall after, what he said was a big operation, but now he was fine again and busy with what he always had been busy with: education, this time for the Soros foundation. We talked at great length as we always did when we spoke to each other which was not too often, but still regular, taking up where we had left our conversation before, even if that was a couple of years earlier.

By the end of our conversation I had already completely forgotten about the operation as Tom was as active as ever, full of spirit to contribute his ample wisdom and experience to education wherever he could. The stoic Scot did not want to get such minor things as life and death to interfere with the big thing of education.

The first time I met Tom was when he was the driving force in OECD in education in the early nineties. He had managed to bring education back in the center of OECD where it once was in the sixties of last century, turning the then secretary general, Paye around to become an education secretary general. It was the time when the OECD engaged in PISA, the project international student achievement. Tom convinced the education ministers that PISA was useful to them. Those were almost comic meetings. Most education ministers only like facts if they make them look good. PISA was dangerous, because Tom refused to give a guarantee that every country would do well, which made the ministers look doubtful about the project. We joined forces in developing the motto that also bad news could have its political pay off, because it would give ministers room for maneuver for change which could help raise their political profile. Tom's experience in the civil service was invaluable in convincing ministers and at least having them agree to a pilot, well knowing that this would be a camel nose where the true camel would soon afterwards show his humps. PISA has had a major positive impact on education world wide. This would not have happened without Tom's quiet resolve and active engagement.

Tom also was early in recognizing the importance of early childhood education, providing the impetus at OECD to stir OECD countries (and beyond) to pay far more attention to early childhood development.

I met Tom again when he visited the World Bank at the end of the nineties, still heavily involved in education. We talked jointly with Ray Rist where I learned that both men had indeed some serious health problems. This was the first time I was surprised, because you could not imagine that these tanks were slowed down by anything.

In the past decade it was the Soros committee on higher education which brought us together. Or better: where Tom brought me in. I cannot remember of a single time where I would disagree with his analysis or recommendations.

Yes, we did from time to time also talk about our personal lives. Tom, being fond of his family let me have a glimpse of the pride of his wife and daughter and two sons. But Tom also was first and foremost the professional education man, to whom I felt close, with high regard and appreciation, but also great fondness for the person.

That is why I felt so devastated when the news reached me. Unexpected for my conscious mind, although he may have attempted to warn me. I will greatly miss him. How much more must then be the loss felt by his family and close friends. I wish them courage in bearing with the notion that Tom is no longer there.

I was privileged to meet Tom Alexander only a few times. This was in the course of my work with the Education Support program. His was an impressive commitment to education justice. He was always gracious and encouraging about the work we were trying to do in Pakistan. I am deeply saddened to learn of his passing away.

Abbas Rashid


I still cannot fully comprehend the immensity of this loss. Tom was (was?)a person of such integrity,a true open society person - one of the very few. I am sure historians of education will call our period "PISA epoch"- just think of the impact PISA had on the development of education worldwide- this survey outcomes are probable the most quoted document these days. And let us not forget that this was Tom's leadership in OECD education department that made PISA possible. Tom, being Tom, never ever emphasised his role -we should do it on his behalf.

I will never forget how Tom, himself straight out of the hospital have invited me to his place in Maidenhead when I first came to London after I lost my son Andrew. And there was nothing special in what he then said or done, but seeing him and telking to him somehow was a great comfort.

And much earlier, in the nineties I remember OECD team coming to Moscow to present the review of Russian education they have just done. I felt so embarassed because our then leaders of education just would not bother to come to the presentation. Tom took that with such a good humour, immediately making me feel like we were members of one team - as we truly were. We have formed a pressure group making our minister realise that he should by all means come to the hearing - and it worked. I still remember Tom's jokes that he was making while waiting for the "big bosses". Where are these bosses now?

I cannot even think of all the impact Tom had on our work in ESP -always positive, always constructive, always insightful - and again, never behaving like a big boss. He will be warmly remembered by so many people in the network. I will never forgrt Tom and will always admire him.
My deep condolences to Tom's children and family, but first and foremost to Pam, who has been as brave as Tom was all these years fighting the deadly desease. I know how hard this loss will be for her- but there is so much she can do to in Tom's memory-we will all be willing to help/ I think ESP should start Tom Alexander award for those who have made a significant contribution into education development world wide

There is a Russian poem that says:

"To sweet companions who by their very presence have made the world a better, warmer place

don't cry "oh, why you are no longer with us"

but rather "Thank you that you' ve been with us!"

Lena Lenskaya

Words have been escaping me. There really aren't any that could adequately sum up the loss. Of course, Tom would indeed be able to conjure the perfect anecdote. He was always appropriate, always insightful, and always kind. He had a way of presenting daunting challenges and then allowing you to rise to them. He was fair with his critique and always ready to toast a job well done or to help you decipher lessons from missteps. In Tom's presence, there was always something to learn.
When I first met Tom, he made me shiver with fear and intimidation. I still remember the sinking feeling when I learned that I'd be interviewed by the "Godfather of PISA". We ended up having a really good debate. His razor-sharp questions left me stumped, yet eager to think over my assumptions more deeply. Over the few years since, I came to know Tom as a caring mentor. That will forever be counted as one of life's great privileges. We last spoke a few weeks before he passed. We discussed the possibility of my stopping by for a visit on my next trip to the UK. With his strength waning by the day he said, "It would be lovely to see you. Although I'm afraid the conversation will likely be one way!" At that we both had a really good laugh, still chuckling as we said good bye.
I will remember Tom as the truly extraordinary man that he was, never sugar-coating anything, always up for a good debate (on any topic imaginable), and always able to find the amusing side of life's oddities. I will truly miss his stories, his insight, and the way in which he presided over our organized chaos. I will also miss the opportunity to benefit from his ability to always choose the perfect wine. I'll probably remember him most when savoring a lovely Bordeaux. I know he would approve.

Aleesha Taylor
Education Support Program

Tom was so much a part of OSI's work, it is hard to imagine he's no longer with us. His loss is deeply felt by the Early Childhood Program's staff and Advisory Board, on which he also served. It is rare to find a general education expert so committed to early childhood education and development. Yet, perhaps because of his background in economics and his persistence in pursuing quality and equity, Tom was also an advocate of early childhood. He didn't say too much at our meetings, usually holding his thoughts until several ideas were out on the table. And then when the moment was right, he'd add something insightful and strategic. Though he was responsible for PISA and development of systems and structures, he wasn't rigid. He advised us to stay flexible and remain open to opportunities that come unexpectedly, and believed evaluation should be meaningful, not a mere repetitive exercise.

He had strong principles and defended these, as well as OSF's interests. For him quality and equity in education were non-negotiable, and he fought to link quality and equity to issues of access, regardless of the circumstances, even if this meant taking unpopular positions.

It felt over the years as though Tom was on our side. We send condolences to Pam and the family and will take some time to remember Tom at our next meeting. And we'll continue to miss him long after.

Sarah Klaus, Director
Early Childhood Program

Remembering Tom Alexander
This is a moment of mourning, but it is also a moment of remembering a man who has been an exceptional source of inspiration and encouragement for so many people including policy-makers and educators around the World. Not least, his vision and leadership has put the OECD at the forefront of international work on education and social affairs. Among his many accomplishments, Tom led the development of the OECD education indicators and laid the ground for the successful launch of PISA. Tom was also a pioneer of integrating the different views and perspectives of sectors of government and fields of expertise into a coherent vision for policy, which became most visible in the OECD Jobs Strategy, the mother of all cross-sectorial work at the OECD. His capacity to anticipate strategic policy challenges well ahead of their time, to recognise their policy implications and then to collaborate with policy makers to give them a lead in responding effectively, is mirrored in work under themes as different as active ageing, pensions, migration and social policies in which he broke new ground as early as the early 1990s.

Behind this success in substance was a remarkable personality. Tom had this magic grace, this amazing talent to give you an extraordinary challenge and you would meet it with joy. He drew his authority, motivated people and shaped his staff not through hierarchy but with leadership, with ideas, with unmatched dedication, and most importantly, with a human heart. From the very first day I met him, I was fascinated and touched by the ways in which he so uniquely combined high expectations and tremendous demands on people, on the one hand, with incredible support and generosity for them, on the other. The door of his office was always open, he was there every day of the week, he would readily share his knowledge, experience and contacts, and he would put his staff in the driver's seat. Even as a junior staff, he would take whatever time it took to correct your drafts (as long as you did not make the same mistakes twice) and he would not leave a question unanswered (as long as you had sufficiently thought about it in advance).

When I attended a meeting of education Ministers in my first year at the OECD, I recall two dozen of Ministers sitting around a table, each telling everyone else that their country had the best education system in the World, and where they had a problem left, they had just put in place a reform to solve that problem. There was just very little dialogue. In a coffee break, Tom appeared exasperated and said to us staffers that we needed to change the dynamics of such discussions with some instrument that would provide countries with a mirror in which they could see themselves in the light of everyone else's outcomes. The idea of PISA was born. A few weeks later I was sitting in his office where he grilled me for several hours on a project proposal designed to put that idea into practice, drawn together with experts from our Network of country experts. His queries went right into the heart of the proposal, with his remarkable capacity to grasp both the most complex substantive issues and to anticipate their political dimensions and implications. With every additional question I became more doubtful about the viability of the proposal. But at the end of that meeting, almost to my surprise, Tom said that we would make that work, with a clear vision for the transformational impact such an instrument could have in the education policy debate. The idea of PISA was beginning to take shape. be continued


Fascinating too was Tom's capacity to leverage the potential of diverse individuals and countries in our OECD Committees, putting the right people to the right task. He, who had never completed a university degree, was able to assemble the highest caliber of academics around his table and to herd cats, as they say. He could focus countries around a common goal and could turn hell in an OECD Committee (imagine the British the cooks, the German's the policemen, the French the engineers, the Swiss the lovers and the Italian's organizing everything) into heaven (imagine the British the policemen, the German's the engineers, the French the cooks, the Italian's the lovers and the Swiss organizing everything). So this is how the PISA story continued: Six months later I had to present a further developed proposal to the OECD Education Committee, a body of senior government officials that oversees OECD's work and budget on education. The discussions were devastating. A few countries recognized the value of assessing learning outcomes internationally, but the vast majority of delegates fell into three groups: Those who said that this could not be done methodologically or financially (Tom was asking for four times the budget of the established education work programme), those who said that comparing educational outcomes internationally was a bad idea from the start, and those who said that it was simply not the business of the OECD to judge the performance of national education systems. In this "Mikado" business of international diplomacy, where the one who moves first has lost by default, you would not imagine any Director take the political risk to stake a claim in this situation. Not so Tom Alexander. I will never forget how he concluded this discussion with saying "well, it is apparent that we have not yet reached complete consensus on this issue, but there seems enough interest among countries to develop the proposal further". From that day forward, he became a tireless Ambassador for PISA, we travelled the World to speak with Ministers, experts and researchers about how to make this work, and within less than a year the development of PISA was under way with virtually every country taking an active role and engagement to move this forward.

Last but not least, there was Tom's continual commitment to put the professional growth of his staff above everything else. He was not simply deploying people to implement a work programme, but he took every effort to coach and support his staff and to provide the kind of help and feedback that would enable them to grow and succeed. And he would always stand behind his staff, not in front of them. So I look with deep gratitude to the time that Tom Alexander shared with me, both professionally and personally — and well beyond his time at the OECD. I will keep this time in the best of my memories and, as we say in Germany, one never dies as long as one is not forgotten.

Andreas Schleicher
Advisor to the Secretary-General on Education Policy, Deputy Director for Education,OECD

Remembering Tom Alexander

When Tom retired from the OECD in 2000 I invited him to join the Oxford University Department of Education as a Senior Research Fellow. We were very pleased that he accepted the invitation and that he was able to spend time each year speaking to our graduate students on the MSc course in Comparative and International Education, preparing them for their annual visit to the OECD to ecplore its work in education, and helping them with their research projects. He also assisted several doctoral students with their research, and his talks were always characterised by his thorough intellectual grasp of the subject, by his wit and good humour, and by his skills as a communicator. It was a privilege to have him associated with us.

David Phillips
Professor of Comparative Education & Fellow of St Edmund Hall, University of Oxford

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