Obituary: D. F. Swift

D. F. Swift was one of a small group of British sociologists whose empirical and theoretical work illuminated the social impediments to educational opportunity of a class-stratified society. This was reflected in the Newsom report, Half Our Future, on secondary education (1963), the Plowden report Children and their Primary Schools (1967) and in various government policy initiatives aimed at alleviating disadvantage.

Don Swift was born in a village near Liverpool, the son (and grandson) of a blacksmith, was educated at St Mary's College, Crosby, and spent National Service in the RAF Police, for a time in Berlin. He trained as a teacher at the Cheshire County Training College, Alsager, where he met his future wife, Enid. After a period in secondary schools, he returned to higher education and at Hull University read Sociology. Following PhD work at Liverpool, he took up a teaching position in Canada, at the University of Calgary, and later returned to Liverpool, to a post in adult education.

His doctoral research, a study of family background factors on the educational performance of schoolboys in Liverpool, was influential in the burgeoning field of sociology of education in Britain in the 1960s. With sociologists at Liverpool University and a nearby college of education, Edge Hill, in 1965 he initiated the international journal Sociology of Education Abstracts, now in its 32nd year. In 1966, he was appointed to Oxford University's Department of Educational Studies, where his advanced course in the sociology of education attracted present and future lecturers in the field.

But it was at the Open University, where he became a Foundation Professor of Educational Studies in 1970, that his concern for educational opportunity found more practical expression. He convened the sociology of education group which contributed to the first large-scale BA degree for non-graduate teachers, offered by means of a purpose-designed, structured "distance education" programme. The group utilised an unconventional range of perspectives, and its innovative textbooks were used world-wide on both distance education and conventional courses in higher education. As a Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the Open University from 1976 to 1981, he contributed to the establishment of what was then a unique institution in its early years and attracting international interest.

During the 1980s he became acquainted with the Asian- Pacific region, for several years directing distance education programmes in Hong Kong for the University of East Asia, Macau, and lobbying for the establishment of such provision in Hong Kong itself. In 1988, the Open Learning Institute of Hong Kong was established, with Swift as its first director, and he continued as a persistent advocate for this new avenue of opportunity in a territory which, until then, had very restricted access to degree-level study. The Open Learning Institute (shortly to become the Open University of Hong Kong) now has over 20,000 students.

In 1992 he undertook what was to prove his final assignment, as a consultant to the South African Institute for Distance Education. The huge educational problems of the new South Africa offered a fresh challenge upon which, by temperament, belief and experience, Swift was ideally suited to comment and advise.

Don Swift was a comparatively private and unflamboyant man. His "religion" was cricket, in which he was an active team player each season, and his general physical fitness makes his sudden and premature death the more unexpected.

Maurice Craft

Donald Francis Swift, educationist: born Ince Blundell, Lancashire 27 September 1932; Professor of Educational Studies, Open University 1970- 86, Pro-Vice-Chancellor 1976-81; Director, Open Learning Institute, Hong Kong 1988-91; consultant, South African Institute for Distance Education 1992-97; married 1957 Enid Wilkinson (one son, two daughters); died Johannesburg 20 January 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Have you been doing a brilliant job in an admi...

Surrey County Council: Senior Project Officer (Fixed Term to Feb 2019)

£26,498 - £31,556: Surrey County Council: We are looking for an outgoing, conf...

Recruitment Genius: Interim Head of HR

£50000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you an innovative, senior H...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources and Payroll Administrator

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client, a very well respect...

Day In a Page

Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn