One of the main criticisms levelled at the British Council over the years, and highlighted recently in the Triennial Review Report about the BC’s activities, is the conflict of interest inherent in an organisation that promises to represent UK education and promote the interests of schools and universities abroad, while at the same time providing education courses, tests, and services itself.
As any international education company (test providers, course providers, marketing service providers) that has tried to enter a new market will know, you may have FCO and UKTI support if you pay the OMIS fees, but you will certainly have the British Council waiting in the wings to see if there is any interesting business it can exploit.
The latest shocking example of this comes, once again, in Azerbaijan.
The British Council organised a UK Education Fair in early November, turning down offers to work with the existing one (organised by Levant Education), so creating a second UK education fair in what is quite a small market.
Part of the organisation included a UK-AZ ‘speed-networking’ session, for UK providers to meet with Azerbaijani universities to explore potential cooperation and joint programme ventures. What the British Council did not mention in its ‘market briefing’ (which otherwise talked quite a lot about the British Council’s services) was that one of the juiciest contracts had already been signed between the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy (ADA) and… the British Council.
Any number of UK universities or private providers would jump at the chance to work with ADA in the provision of pre-sessional English courses for students…given the opportunity.
The British Council will provide language courses and IELTS testing on the campus of ADA, but the ambitions of the project do not stop there, according to Gary Brooks, the Teaching Centre Manager.
“We want to enter the market in Baku with an extra advantage. So, having the branding of both the British Council and the ADA University, I think, immediately has made a standout (sic)”.
In Baku, Gary tells us, there are “lots of interesting business opportunities. The British Council and the ADA University English language Center wants to be involved in this area as much as possible. We can offer something to other businesses, professionals and people in Baku”.
Quite the aggressive business plan, exploiting the government brand to the full but of course in no way detrimental to UK or local businesses in the same field, and in every way a sound investment for the UK taxpayer…
If the Foreign Office, UKTI and Ernst & Young – who are currently looking at the business model of the British Council – achieve anything, it is hoped it will be to prevent this UK government agency from acting as gamekeeper in areas where it hungrily eyes the game. Until then, the rest of us might as well hang up our boots.