Tribute to Geoff Mason

It’s with great sadness that I announce that Geoff Mason, our long-time friend and collaborator at LLAKES, died at his home last week.

As some of you will know, Geoff had been suffering with cancer for several years, and dealt with this with the courage and forbearance which was typical of him. He went through several years exhausting treatments, having his good and bad days, but he rarely complained and always remained positive and hopeful, still working until quite recently.

Many of you will have seen his deeply thoughtful recent research paper for LLAKES on intermediate skills and the funding inequalities between higher and further education. He managed to complete this shortly before last Christmas despite his treatment rendering him unable to work except for short spells on his good days. We were honoured to be able to publish these last thoughts of his on a topic to which he devoted so much over the years and with whose ongoing policy conundrums he continued to grapple to the end.

This determination and commitment was very characteristic of him.  I have known Geoff for many years going back to the 1990s. We first met when he was already an established figure at the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, notable for his influential research on intermediate skills in the workplace which used the comparative matched plant method pioneered by his colleague at NIESR, Sig Prais. I was a young researcher at the time working with NIESR on my first funded comparative research projects. Geoff and I kept in touch and have collaborated on many projects since.

One of my first and most abiding memories of Geoff from this period was a keynote he gave for a conference we hosted at IOE in 2001 for completion of our ‘High Skills’ project. Geoff was in the middle of his presentation when the power went down. In the pitch black undergound auditorium, he continued without faltering and quite unperturbed to the end of his speech, his words all the more authoritative without the distraction of PowerPoint slides.

Geoff was a core member of LLAKES from the beginning, having contributed substantially to the original bid for an ESRC Centre in 2007. In the first phase of the Centre he led major projects on ‘Innovation, Knowledge Transfer, and the Role of Higher Education’ and ‘Industrial Competitiveness, Social Inclusion and the Upskilling of Older Workers.’ In the second phase he co-led two further projects, one with Claire Callender on ‘Student Debt, Higher Education Participation and Intermediate Skills Development’, and another with Rebecca Riley on ‘Skills, Innovation and Economic Growth.’

All four became flagship projects, featuring prominently for their research excellence and impact in the Centre’s end of grant reports. They were all notable for their rigorous empirical research and clear argument and also for their policy relevance – whether it be in documenting the decline in off-the-job training since 2000, or in pointing to the potential for greater interaction between lower-ranked universities and local businesses, particularly with regard to renewable energy technologies.

His pioneering work with Rebecca Riley investigated how far differences in productivity performance across countries, and within firms in the UK could be explained by differences in the skills required to accumulate ‘intangible’ assets – such as innovation capacity, designs and ‘organisational capital,’ – thus underlining the fundamentally social foundations of innovation and productivity. The main findings from the project were presented at internal workshops in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and at policy workshops organised by House of Commons Select Committees, as well as at an OECD workshop at HM Treasury.

His work with Claire Callender demonstrated how the relatively greater aversion to debt amongst working class students, compared with their more privileged peers, was increasingly deterring  their higher education participation, particularly in the case of mature students. The research first appeared the prestigious Annals of American Political and Social Science and was the subject of Geoff’s presentation to analysis and policy staff at the Department for Education.

Most recently Geoff returned to his lifelong preoccupation with intermediate skills, arguing forcefully for policy changes in the funding of Further and Higher Education to reverse the long- term decline in participation in sub degree technician-level courses.  

Geoff was a key and highly productive member of LLAKES throughout our eleven years of full funding as an ESRC centre and remained a loyal supporter in the difficult period of transition that followed. We were honoured to have him as a visiting professor during the years after his retirement. Doing research with him was invariably challenging and stimulating and always rewarding. He was a most supportive colleague – always prepared to help to younger researchers on their projects – and remained a loyal friend to many of us in the Centre over our years working together.  

He will be greatly missed and not forgotten.

Andy Green

More tributes emailed to me from his friends in LLAKES

‘I was very saddened to hear that Geoff Mason had passed away last week. I first met Geoff in 1998 and loved debating with him. He was serious, funny, and kind. Andy and I were privileged to work with him when we set up the LLAKES research centre in 2008 – Geoff played a key role in securing the grant and helping to build a cross-disciplinary community. Forming a partnership with him and NIESR has brought many rewards including lasting friendships.’ Lorna Unwin

‘This is sad news indeed. Geoff was a steadfast and supportive colleague for LLAKES through good times and bad, and courageous to the end.’ Karen Evans 

‘Very sad news indeed. Geoff will be missed dearly.’ Ingrid Schoon

‘This is very sad news, though not unexpected. I remember Geoff as a very committed and collegial scholar and recall he gave some very perceptive comments on a paper of mine on the link between school ethnic composition and civic values.’ Germ Janmaat

‘Geoff was always a supportive colleague who will be sadly missed.’ Alan Felstead

Geoff will be sorely missed as a friend and colleague.’ So sad. Francis Green

Sad news, Geoff was such a kind and supportive person. Gabriella Melis.

‘It’s such sad news – he was a very kind man.’  Richard Dorsett

‘Very sad. Geoff was so generous and supportive.’ Golo Henseke

‘Many thanks for letting us know and so sorry to hear about Geoff. We became friends during my first year at LLAKES and he was of great support during that time. Please offer my condolences to his family.’ Michela Franceschelli

‘Thanks Andy – very sad news.’ Claire Cellender

‘Geoff was part of the Centre from the start and continued to make important and influential contributions even as recently as this year. He will be sadly missed.’ Alison Fuller

‘Very sad news indeed. Geoff was a lovely man and I will miss his great chats!’ Anna Vignoles

‘Sad news, Geoff was such a kind and supportive person.’. Gabriella Melis.