The British Council: Conflicts of interest

The British Council and ‘clarity of purpose’

Wolf In Sheep's Clothing

In the 2014 Triennial Review report about the British Council, another area of concern for the FCO is ‘clarity of purpose’, or conflict of interest in plain English.

In its Corporate Plan, the British Council claims to create value for the UK by:

  • Creating introductions, connections and business opportunities for UK organisations, social enterprises and businesses, helping them to learn from overseas engagement.

UK companies in international education (a sector estimated to be worth $6.3 trillion globally) can turn to ‘UKTI Education’ for assistance. FCO Minister of State, Hugo Swire, points out that the FCO and British Council support UKTI in promoting UK education exports.

Mr Swire writes, in a letter to Levant Education, that “UKTI and the British Council now share opportunities worth more than £100k with the wider international education sector.”

£100k is about half of what cooperation with UKTI and the British Council has cost Levant Education, one Small Enterprise, since agreeing to work together in 2012. It is also a tiny fraction of the Council’s £1 billion annual income.

The British Council earns £100k every hour of every day – £100k is the crumbs that fall from the British Council’s table to the ‘wider international education sector’.  

What Levant Education and many others* have learnt is this: For UK SME’s and entrepreneurs in international education engaging UKTI to help in international markets, the British Council will indeed step in to ‘support’. If the export project is successful and set to provide a return on investment for the SME, the British Council will then exploit its position to channel those business opportunities for itself, quickly snuffing out competition from the SME that created the project in the first place.

Conflict of interest is the nice term for this behaviour…  If the British Council is serious about helping to create opportunities for UK businesses, working with UKTI, it must cease to compete with those same UK businesses, for those same business opportunities. 


*for example, a group of UK companies tried, in vain, to seek address for the problem with Lord Green at BIS and the FCO in 2012:

It is the experience of those companies represented here that the BC finds it hard to demonstrate any competitive neutrality. The BC, as a supplier of services in its own right, increasingly competes with other UK providers, with the almost inevitable conflict of interest.

Although the BC provides the clearest example there is a widespread perception that a number of other grant-funded, quasi government agencies and organisations are also beginning to present market conflicts and issues. These agencies are not competitively neutral and there is no level playing field when it comes to their operations and practice abroad. They significantly increase, especially during competitive procurement, the costs and risks for others both those already participating in as well as those considering and entering the market. These agencies are also perceived to have access to more current information, support and contacts abroad than other non-subsidised, commercial providers. This latter issue has been a long standing complaint common to most providers, and thus far, successive Governments have failed to address or recognise it.

Neil McIntosh, Chief Executive, CfBT Education Trust

Graham Able, CEO, Alpha Plus Group

David Blackie, Managing Director, International Education Connect Ltd

Barry Brooks, Group Strategy Director, Tribal Group

Marian Brooks, Executive Director, Mott MacDonald, Cambridge Education

Andrew Fitzmaurice, CEO, Nord Anglia Plc

Ian Hunt, Managing Director, Gabbitas

Simon Lebus, Group Chief Executive, Cambridge Assessment

Kevin McNeany, Chairman, Orbital Education Ltd

Peter Miller, President Learning Solutions, Pearson International

Professor James Tooley, EG West Centre, Newcastle University

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