British Council apologises for commercial abuse of FCO position

The British Council has issued an apology for a ‘lapse’ that saw it take advantage of Levant Education’s business and collaboration with the FCO in Azerbaijan to launch its own competing offer in the same market.

What happens when a UK private enterprise seeks (and pays for) support from the British government in new markets? If that company is in the business of international education, it is likely to find that it has flashed up on the radar of an aggressive, state-funded competitor.

In 2012 UK education company Levant Education commissioned support from UKTI, the FCO and the British Council to launch UK-focussed education fairs in Azerbaijan, after successfully launching similar events in Turkey. That support cost Levant Education thousands of pounds for UKTI/FCO facilities (the event reception was hosted at the UK Embassy, where the Ambassador spoke to a specially invited audience) and would go on to cost a lot more.

UK in Azerbaijan Ambassador Irfan Siddiq
UK in Azerbaijan Ambassador Irfan Siddiq

At the reception, and subsequently at the exhibition itself the next day, British Council staff quietly approached the university representatives who had joined the ground-breaking event. As BC ‘Head of HE and Education Services’ Gordon Slaven’s apology admits, they “used the opportunity to enquire into participants interest in a possible British Council exhibition.”

During the ‘independent’ investigation conducted by Verita (paid for by the British Council…) in London, British Council staff admitted that they had been under pressure to identify ways to increase revenue and make more money in 2012, as the government grant was being cut. That drive to be more commercially aggressive is what undoubtedly pushed BC staff to abuse its FCO status in Azerbaijan to gain unfair competitive advantage, going into direct competition with a private enterprise that had both paid the FCO for its assistance, and secured a promise of non-competition from the British Council Regional Director, Helen Silvestre.

Wolf In Sheep's ClothingBritish Council SIEM (Services for International Education Marketing) products – exhibitions, market reports, online marketing – were launched in Azerbaijan in 2013, following Levant Education’s first successful exhibition. The British Council is seen as a government office, an FCO agency, and a charity – useful branding and cover for its lucrative commercial operations that generate £1 billion every year, tax-free, from IELTS testing, English teaching, Education Marketing and education related contracts.

The Verita investigation uncovered incredible duplicity from British Council staff in Baku and Istanbul. While working with Levant Education on its new project, in apparent harmony and good humour, they were simultaneously working to duplicate the event and sell the idea to UK universities and education providers.

Levant Education Managing Director and owner David Mitchell writes:

sb_exhibit_oct16fThe British Council’s recently introduced ‘Independent Complaints Process’ has failed its first test since a critical Foreign & Commonwealth Office Triennial Review highlighted competition and accountability issues in 2014.

The Council has half-heartedly apologised for its blatant hijacking of our business in Azerbaijan. However the Verita investigation report was carried out as a paid-for service for the British Council, covering up more than it revealed. The final report skates over unfair competition issues, provides for no accountability for Management decisions taken in Istanbul and Baku, and goes to great lengths to ‘blame the victim’ – bizarrely finding that Levant Education was in some way to blame because it later dared to publicly complain about the BC’s dishonest behaviour.

The report also fails to address the financial impact on Levant Education: between money invested in the project, fees to UKTI/the FCO, and lost earnings due the unfair state competition, Levant has lost a six figure sum after making the mistake of trusting the FCO, UKTI and British Council.

Levant Education will be seeking a review from the parliamentary ombudsman, and seeking legal advice also. A genuine investigation needs to be conducted by an independent body, rather than a paid-for public relations service on behalf of the government agency. The British Council should not be allowed to compete for competitive commercial services while disguised as a government agency/FCO department/charitable concern. The BC’s actions in Azerbaijan, and in Turkey (where it also ignored promises made in regards to fair competition) were dishonest, anti-competitive and devious. The apology is a start, but once again the British Council has been shown to be more concerned about commercial gain and face-saving PR than about accountability, transparency or fair competition.

Baku April 2016

Our UK Education events have broken new ground in Turkey, Kurdish Iraq and Azerbaijan, boosting access to UK education opportunities and raising standards in UK HE marketing in the region.

We return to Baku in April 2016, once again taking residence for 3 days at the Hilton Hotel, Baku. Once again we will be working closely with local schools and universities, companies, Alumni Associations and the Ministry of Education.

Our events aim to better serve future scholarship students, as well as privately funded ones, and to enhance local networks. We will meet with the Ministry of Education on Friday 08 April.


Friday 08 April – Baku – Ministry Meeting, VIP Reception

Saturday 09 April – Baku – Private Seminars, Exhibition

Sunday 10 April – Optional Private Seminars


Exhibitors 2014/15:
Previous University Exhibitors

Is the British Council ‘Entrepreneurial’?

orwellIn 1946 George Orwell warned authors against making money from writing propaganda for bodies such as the British Council, deeming such work a waste of creative energy. Nonetheless, in recent times, it seems that those writing propaganda for the Council’s commercial activities have been reading Orwell’s novel ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’.


When defending its aggressive commercial plans and arguing for continued grant-in-aid funding from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), the British Council has sought praise for its ‘entrepreneurial‘ model of public sector finance.

Think of the word entrepreneurial and terms like ‘risk taking’, ‘new venture’, ‘private finance’, ‘creative’ and innovation’ come to mind. Let’s compare British Council with a genuine UK business to see which truly represents the spirit of entrepreneurialism:

The British Council

  1. The British Council doesn’t have to worry about start up costs or financing: it is underwritten by the taxpayer to the tune of £160 million per year. It commercially exploits its government branding and facilities, and is largely unaccountable.
  2. The British Council is a government agency with a government brand, funded by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office of the United Kingdom, with a related political agenda.
  3. The British Council has the instant support of Ambassadors, Consul Generals and UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) offices around the world to support its business, at no cost, to the detriment of fair competition. Any education / training company approaching UKTI/FCO for international assistance will be asked to work with a competing organisation – the British Council.
  4. The British Council pays no tax, thanks to its ‘charity‘ status and a complex network of international business entities that makes Starbucks envious.
  5. British Council employees (whether working for the public good or on BC cash generating business) benefit from a full Civil Service Pension scheme, paid for by the British taxpayer.
  6. The British Council stifles competition by using its government brand, taxpayer funding, tax-avoiding global network of companies, and government FCO privileges to maximise income from its marketing, events and language businesses.

Levant Education

  1. Levant Education was started using the private savings of its Director, David Mitchell, after 10 years spent working in International Education marketing. Every project or venture it undertakes must take account of the business risk and customer satisfaction.
  2. Levant Education is a British company, working to build a brand based on quality events, marketing & recruitment, and education projects in Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iraq and Iran. It is a private limited company, independent of the UK government, working closely with governments where it is active, for example in Azerbaijan.
  3. Levant Education pays UKTI for overseas market introduction services (OMIS), which unavoidably brings-in the British Council team in that market. The British Council then shamelessly goes after our business for itself.
  4. Levant Education pays tax in the UK as a registered UK company.
  5. Levant Education employs and pays its employees with no state benefits required.
  6. Levant Education competes in its sector on a fair and even playing field – one which the British Council distorts and exploits.

Is the British Council ‘entrepreneurial‘? Only in a world where 2 + 2 = 5, Freedom is Slavery, and



Monopolistic, Unaccountable,
State-Sponsored, Unfair Trade

Photos – UKET Azerbaijan Autumn 2014

The original and first UK-focussed education exhibition in Azerbaijan returned to Baku on Friday 24th and Saturday 25th October, combining a high quality exhibition, Education Ministry meeting and an enjoyable Alumni Reception.

Once again universities enjoyed meeting qualified students at the excellent Fairmont Hotel Flame Towers. Students preparing applications for UK universities as part of the Scholarship Programme of the Ministry of Education, as well as many self-funding students, appreciated the opportunity to narrow down their course / university choices.

“Such a successful event. We were very happy with the fair and received very high quality enquiries. Well done! Looking forward to future events.”
Noomi Weinberg, Kings College London. 

“Very well organised, I spoke to a good number of students who seemed of reasonable calibre and the venue was a good one! The boards with notable alumni were also an excellent idea.”
Dan Newby, London School of Economics.

“A successful fair and we met some very good students.”
Hannah Legg, University College London. 

“The fair was very good, it was very busy and as usual the calibre of students was very high. I felt most students were very sharp and ready to take up education abroad”.
Nilufer Rashidova, University of East Anglia. 

“I have to say it was a very well organised event which attracted good quality and number of interested students for us. It is obvious that King’s is well regarded in the market. The alumni event was very good idea, was good to see so many of King’s alumni turning up”.
Nelly Purcell, Kings College London. 

See images from UKET Spring 2014 here!


Baku Flame Towers


UK universities draw Kurdish students

The Kurdish Globe: More than 1,600 students have been granted the opportunity (April 2012)

The higher education relationship between Kurdish students and UK universities has strengthened since the KRG launched its Human Capacity Development program, with additional UK universities willing to enroll Kurdish students intent on studying in the UK.

The former KRG higher education Minister Dr. Dlawar Aladdin and UK University's minister of higher education David Willets speak to reporters during a press conference in Erbil./ GLOBE PHOTO/Safin Hamed
The former KRG higher education Minister Dr. Dlawar Aladdin and UK University’s minister of higher education David Willets speak to reporters during a press conference in Erbil./ GLOBE PHOTO/Safin Hame

Some 14 universities from Britain have visited Kurdistan region in the last couple of weeks. This is the first time a group of eminent foreign universities visit the region, thrilling those who want to continue their studies abroad.

“We have a group of universities coming from UK, some for the first time, and some of them have been investing in a relationship for years with Kurdish universities, helping to train and educate students from the Kurdistan region,” said David Mitchell, managing director at Levant Education Consulting, to The Kurdish Globe.

Mitchell believes the presence of UK universities in Kurdistan is a golden opportunity to further improve educational ties between the two sides and to give students a chance to benefit from quality education in Britain. “The main reason we are here today is to invite potential Kurdish students looking to study in UK.”

“It’s a fabulous success,” said Chris Bowers, British general consul in Kurdistan region, during a press conference at Erbil’s British consulate. “Higher education has been one of our major focuses here. We have a great future ahead in terms of the relationship between Kurdish and British universities, and that is tremendously exciting.”

More than 1,600 students have been granted the opportunity to continue their studies at leading international universities in Europe and the U.S. under the KRG’s Human Capacity Development program, which was launched in 2010 with $100 million. It is administered by the KRG Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research.


Levant Education Nominated for STM Star Award

Star Award

In September we will be celebrating 2 years of operations for our Levant Education Study Abroad Agency, which focusses on converting enquiries generated by our digital platforms and, and through focussed events such as ‘UK Education Tour‘.

So it is a great boost to have been nominated by partner schools for a Study Travel Magazine ‘Star Award’ for ‘New Agency 2014’.

Head of Admissions Banu Mitchell said, “We had no idea we’d been nominated and initially, when we got the call, wondered if there had been a mistake!”

“We’ve had a good start to our agency, particularly with digital marketing initiatives in Turkey, but we have a long way to go yet!”

Levant Education Group initially offered online marketing and exhibition services, but it became clear that schools and universities were looking for in-market conversion support to really maximise Return-On-Investment in marketing and advertising.

Levant Education Study Abroad is guided by 4 principals:

  • Excellence in counselling and service
  • Professional and focussed approach to marketing
  • Business partnerships not loose agency agreements
  • Transparent and honest business relationships

While a few unscrupulous agents have created a tricky reputation for the market in Turkey (huge, ineffective fairs, ‘creative’ marketing efforts and accounting), Levant Education has learned from the best agencies in Europe that honesty, expertise and real partnership will win out in the end.

Our events and online marketing provide focussed platforms for international education marketing, and our agency is now recognised for its performance in competitive markets.

Levant Education would like to thank all clients and partners, and look forward to growing business together in the coming years! 



Azerbaijan Scholarship Workshop – London

Tuesday 5th March, Middle East Association, Bury Street, London

Levant Education Group is leading initiatives to improve UK-Azeri educational links and support for scholarship programmes designed to develop the Azeri economic and political situation.

Azeri Visit Images

This event will bring the major Azeri scholarship bodies to London for a full day workshop, with presentations and opportunities for 1-to-1 meetings with key scholarship-body leaders. The event is highly recommended for International Office, Admissions and Finance personnel of UK Universities and HE Pathway providers receiving Azeri scholarship students.

Officers from the following bodies will be in attendance:

Azerbaijan Ministry of Education 
Azerbaijan State Oil Fund (SOFAZ)

The proposed schedule for the day’s events is as follows:

9.15 – 10.00 Arrival, Registration and coffee

10.00 – Welcome
10.05 – Presentation: Azerbaijan Ministry of Education, with Q&A to follow
11.30 – Azerbiajan State Oil Fund, with Q&A to follow
 – Lunch break, sandwiches, tea, coffee provided
14:00 to 18.00
 Individual meetings with Azeri officials
These will be booked online after registration.

Places for this event are limited and are expected to sell out before the deadline. The registration fee for this exclusive workshop is £200 (£100 for additional colleagues), to cover overheads, lunch and travel costs. £100 will be refunded to those also registering for the Baku UK Education Tour in Autumn 2013.

Turkey: New Business Development

 At UK Education Tour we aim to help you develop new markets within Turkey.

With over 50 million people living outside of the biggest cities (Istanbul and Ankara) it’s important to keep on working at developing recruitment from different regions in  Turkey.

So, for UKET Spring 2013 we will follow Baku, Istanbul and Ankara with a 4th city in Turkey: In the early stages we are asking for your opinion as to the city to visit on April 30th 2013:

Adana: Adana is the capital of Adana Province, home to 1.6 million people. The Adana-Mersin metropolitan area has a population of 3 million people. Çukurova University is placed among the top 500 universities of the world in research conducted by Blackwell Publishing, Quacquarelli Symonds and The Times.

Antalya: The population of Antalya has increased significantly in recent years, to over 1 million. The leading economic sectors are tourism, agriculture, ship building and commerce. Akdeniz University has an student body of over 30,000 students.

Gaziantep: A population of 1.4 million, and home to one of Turkey’s largest uninversites – Gaziantep University – and the private Zirve University, Gaziantep has a thriving economy based on industry, importing/exporting, agriculture and tourism. Gaziantep’s tourism industry is thriving, offering Museums dedicated to its recent and ancient history, a Citadel and historic bazaars.

Konya: Central Anatolian Konya has a population of over 1 million people, and Selçuk University is one of the largest public universities in Turkey. Rumi’s tomb is in the city, whose followers established the Mevlevi Sufi order of Islam there and became known as the whirling dervishes.

Trabzon: Trabzon is located on the historic silk road, on the Black Sea in Turkey’s north east. Nearly a million people live in the city and surrounding area. Karadeniz Technical University hosts students from all over Turkey, as well as students from the Turkic states in Central Asia.