August 10, 2015

Alan Ruby honored with Membership of the Order of Australia

Alan Ruby and Kim Beazley spent six years working together to modernize Australia’s education system.

Beazley — then Minister of Employment, Education, Training, and Youth Affairs — and Ruby, his Deputy Secretary, led the country’s first significant steps towards a national curriculum framework, expanded the scope of Australia’s system of vocational and higher education, prioritized the teaching of east-Asian languages, and opened up universities and colleges to more foreign students.

After that, Ruby went on to work for the World Bank and Atlantic Philanthropies before coming to Penn GSE, where he has served as a Senior Fellow working to improve higher education programs around the world. Beazley eventually became Australia’s Ambassador to the United States.

They had a happy reunion earlier this summer when Beazley invested Ruby in the Order of Australia — that country’s award for achievement and merit in service to country and humanity.

“Alan was a superb senior public servant, innovative and lateral thinking, in ways folk don’t normally associate with the bureaucracy,” Beazley said. “It was very satisfying to see that all those attributes, spread across a variety of his endeavours over the years, had seen him so honoured.”

Ruby’s career has spanned decades and continents, and he continues to explore ways to improve education around the globe.

After serving in Australian government, Ruby was recruited by the World Bank to work in East Asia. At the time, the region was riding a wave of economic success.

But within weeks of Ruby’s arrival, the so-called Asian Tigers began crashing. The World Bank stepped in.

“Our first priority was to keep the kids in school,” Ruby said.

In Indonesia, Ruby said, “we were afraid they would finish primary school to drop out and start working, or begging, or even enter the sex industry.”

He oversaw the creation of a nation-wide scholarship program there that paid students families when students attended secondary school. These payments were all cash. Concerned about money vanishing before it could reach families in need, his team found a creative solution by using local post offices as pick up points. 

In 2000, he joined Atlantic Philanthropies, to help design the plan to best spend an $8 billion endowment while the donor was still alive.

That eventually led to Philadelphia and Penn GSE. Ruby helped launch the International Educational Development Program, then began working in the Higher Education Division.

He was instrumental in establishing a relationship with education leaders in Kazakhstan, where he, professors Matt Hartley, Bob Zemsky and others have consulted with the government trying to modernize its university system.

When Kazakh leaders wanted to open an English-language university — with a goal preparing graduates for Master’s and Ph.D. programs at world-class institutions around the world — Ruby advised on founding Nazarbayev University. Its first class graduated this May, and 150 of these graduates are continuing their education outside Kazakhstan, at universities including M.I.T.

Ruby and Hartley are now putting together a book on what they’ve learned from working in Kazakhstan. Closer to home, he’s looking at what the makers of massive open online courses can learn from social media about building and retaining users and continues teaching about the many ways education can give all young people more choices in life.