British Council

British Council

The British Council is a Public Body of the United Kingdom Government which specialises in educational and development opportunities. It is a non-departmental public body, a public corporation incorporated by royal charter, and is registered as a charity in England. Founded in 1934, one of its patrons is Queen Elizabeth II and its Chair is Lord Kinnock, the former leader of the UK Labour Party. Its 'sponsoring department' is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, although it has day-to-day operational independence. Martin Davidson is its Chief Executive, appointed in April 2007.


The British Council's remit is "to build mutually beneficial cultural and educational relationships between the United Kingdom and other countries, and increase appreciation of the United Kingdom’s creative ideas and achievements." Its overseas network extends to 233 locations in 107 countries and territories. It has UK branch offices in London, Manchester, Edinburgh, Belfast, Cardiff and Cambridge and a headquarters in Spring Gardens, off Whitehall in central London.

Of its total income of £551m in 2006/07, the British Council received £195m of grants from the British government. The rest was earned through charging for teaching English to individuals and organisations, examinations and commercial consultancy — often acting as a managing agent for UK Government departments, which it lobbies assiduously for business.Fact|date=August 2007 Its main 'areas of activity', at least as reflected by its website, are 'Learning/Teaching, the Arts, Science and Society'.


Climate Change Champions

During early 2008, the British Council initiated to select young 'climate change champions' from 13 countries representing the G8+5. The project was aimed to form a team of youth ambassadors to spread awareness about climate change effects and mitigation in their immediate community.

The present team includes:

*Canada - Caroline Jo, Katie Skyvington, Maegan McKeen
*France - Aude, Baptiste, Quentin
*Germany - Larissa, Dominique, Gregor
*Italy - Irenne Sanna, Viginia Ledda, Elsa
*Japan - Yo, Saki, Shiouri
*Russia - Katrina Melenik, Diana, Drimitry
*UK - Stephanie, James, Jordon
*USA - Sophie, Rebecca Chan, Marvin Salazar

*Brazil - Laila Soares, Antonio Mota Fella, Guilherme Pastore
*China - Kurt Chan, Ding, Wang
*India - Karan Sehgl, Jaswant Madhavan, Nidi U
*Mexico - Balem Nayeli, Angel Flores, Israel
*South Africa - Jonathan, Zaid Abubaker Philander, Zanelle

The champions had presented their respective governments possible solution in Japan and formed their own plans.


While supporting curriculum development with teaching materials, the British Council also seeks to strengthen perceptions of the UK by introducing millions of people to British ideas and the English language. There are 70 British Council Teaching Centres in 53 countries. It taught 1,189,000 class hours to 300,000 learners in 2006/07. [ [ British Council Annual Report 2006/2007.] Retrieved 13 December 2007.]

In examination centres around the world, the British Council administers 1.5 million UK examinations to over one million candidates each year and this is set to grow. The Council is making it easier to register and pay for these examinations online. It is also working with the UK's award bodies to extend the range of professional qualifications available overseas to establish the UK as the international benchmark in areas such as accounting. The Council also oversees British schools operating internationally through bodies such as COBIS, NABSS, and the European Council of International Schools.

In schools around the UK, the British Council is working with the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF) and the devolved administrations to help three million children gain an International School Award, which increases their understanding and appreciation of other cultures. There are now 2,700 UK schools working towards an award. In the Middle East, the British Council has launched a major school links programme bringing children in the UK together with those in the region in order to break down negative perceptions and foster inter-cultural dialogue. To date, 153 schools in the Middle East are involved in 53 collaborative projects.

ports festivals

On playing fields in 40 countries young people have learned new leadership and team-building skills by being involved in Dreams+Teams sports festivals. The programme has trained 5,500 young leaders and has reached 280,000 people in their schools and communities. The British Council is expanding its activities to help more young people prepare for global citizenship.

English for peace

English for peace is an important and growing element of British Council English language work in Africa and other parts of the world. It works with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence to improve the English language skills of military personnel assigned to international peacekeeping duties through the Peacekeeping English Project (PEP). PEP is helping prepare approximately 50,000 military and police service personnel in 28 countries worldwide for peacekeeping mission duties. The Peacekeeping English Project is managed by the British Council and funded by the UK government global conflict prevention fund.

Other activities

In many countries, including the UK, the British Council runs cafés scientifiques, informal events to engage people with creative ideas about science. They take place in cafes, bars and bookshops and begin with a short talk from a UK scientist or science writer. Events so far have brought together audiences from as far away as India and Malaysia to discuss the social and ethical aspects of issues from Darwin to DNA, from global warming to artificial intelligence.

ZeroCarbonCity is the British Council’s global campaign to raise awareness about climate change and the energy challenges facing the world’s cities. It chose climate change as the major theme for its science work to underline the leadership being shown by the UK in tackling this major issue, the Prime Minister’s commitment to use the G8 and EU presidencies to renew efforts to confront the global challenges. The programme included a touring exhibition, an online global debate and series of seminars and conferences. 62 countries have participated in ZeroCarbonCity and 2.5 million people have been reached directly by the campaign.

The British Council-supported production of Love's Labour's Lost in 2005 was the first performance of a Shakespeare play in Afghanistan in over 17 years. The play was performed in the Afghan language of Dari and the capacity audience responded enthusiastically to the eternal and universal themes of Shakespeare’s play and to the local references and music.

The British Council has pioneered work on promoting the UK experience with the creative industries abroad, including running a series of awards for young creative entrepreneurs worldwide such as the International Young Publisher of the Year and International Young Music Entrepreneur of the Year awards. [ [ Making a world of difference.]

Online Initiatives

In 2007,The British Council China Region launched a new community website for English learners and teachers across mainland China and Hong Kong. The site has already over 30,000 members. English Online has social networking functionality as well as a range of podcasts for English learners - [] [ [ Online] ]

The British Council has entered Second Life Teen Grid to create an educational island for learners of English as of 2007. [ [ British Council isle to open beta in teen grid tomorrow.] Retrieved 13 December 2007] [ [ YouTube Video - British Council Isle, Second Life] ]

Difficulties in Russia

In recent years the Council has experienced difficulties operating in Russia, resulting from the sometimes tense Anglo-Russian relationship. It operates under a 1994 intergovernmental agreement on cooperation in the fields of education, science and culture. The British Government has been seeking for some years to establish a new Cultural Centres Agreement (CCA) which would formalize the British Council's status in Russia [ [ Foreign Affairs Committee Report, November 2007, para. 137] ] . The British Council is now registered for tax in Russia and pays tax on its "fee-earning work". The Russian Government has also challenged their claim to have been exempt in the past from paying local taxation on their commercial language teaching courses and also over The British Council's support for Russian NGOs that are perceived as political.

Also regarding Russia, in late 2007 the British Council announced that it is to cease carrying out all ESOL and other English Language examinations in Russia with effect from 1st January 2008. It cites "circumstances beyond our control" as being the cause and it appears that some examinations that had already been booked have been cancelled. [ [ British Council, Russia. Retrieved 12 December 2007] .] In addition, the British Council has stated that all offices in Russia, with the exception of Moscow, St Petersburg and Ekaterinburg will close before the end of 2007. Subsequent confirmation of closures is reported here [ [ British Council - Libraries Handover. Retrieved 7th February 2008] ] .

A further development occurred on 12 December 2007, when it was reported that the British Council had been ordered by the Russian Foreign Ministry to close its two remaining offices outside of Moscow before the beginning of January 2008. The Ministry maintained that the British Council was "operating illegally" within Russia and that "the Council had violated tax regulations, among other laws". [ [ Russia suspends British Council regional offices, Reuters. Retrieved 13 December 2007] .] The Russian position was summarised in an article published on the Moscow News website. [ [ Moscow News No 49, 2007: British Council to Close in Regions.] Retrieved 13 December 2007.] British officials said that the Russian actions against the Council are connected to the dispute over Alexander Litvinenko poisoning []

After the Council's offices in St Petersburg and Ekaterinburg reopened in mid-January after the New Year break, the Russian authorities accused Britain of intentional provocation, because this action was illegal. However, British Ambassador Sir Tony Brenton said he had informed Vladimir Titov, the deputy foreign minister, that the offices would remain open as "the British Council is working entirely legally, that it will continue therefore to work, that any Russian action against it would be a breach of international law". [ [ UK-Russia diplomatic row worsens, BBC News 14 January.] ] On 15 January 2008, the head of the St Petersburg office Stephen Kinnock, son of Neil Kinnock, was detained for alleged traffic offences and drunken driving; but declined to take an alcohol-level breath test, claiming diplomatic status, which was confirmed as valid when the British Consul-General arrived at the scene about one hour later. He was then released. [ [ The Times Online: Neil Kinnock's Son Held by Police] . ] Stephen Kinnock departed Russia the following day and is now working for the British Council in Sierra Leone. [ [, House of Commons Publications and Records: 20th March 2008] . ]

Following the reopening, FSB officials interviewed British Council staff at both St Petersburg and Ekaterinburg, apparently informing them that they were working for an illegal organization. This resulted in the closure of both offices, owing to lack of staff, and they remained shut on 17 January 2008. [ [ Russia row offices 'to stay shut', BBC News, 17 January 2008] .] While the British saw little possibility of reopening the offices given the problems with their staff, Yury Fedotov, Russia's ambassador to London, told journalists that a solution to the dispute could be reached if Britain showed more respect for Moscow's position: "A resolution is possible, but we need to gain more respect and avoid further public discussions which under the current circumstances are unhelpful," he explained. [ [ British Council suspends work in St. Petersburg - 2, RIA Novosti, 16 January 2008] .]

In June 2008 it was announced that the British Council were being further investigated by the Russian tax authorities for non-payment of tax. This hinged on a disputed tax bill with respect to a tax asessment which was issued in May 2008, but which relates to 2007.

In an emailed statement the British Council said, “The British Council is registered with the tax authorities, it regularly pays taxes ... and carries out all the demands of the Russian tax authorities.”

However, it is alleged that the Council has failed to pay all tax due under the tax bill mentioned, describing the amount demanded as “punitive and disproportionately large”. Should the full amount remain unpaid, then possible actions by the Russian tax authorities include the seizure of property, including books, furniture, poetry and computers, from the British Council’s now sole-remaining Russian office in Moscow. Such action has been described by an official as being the "standard procedure in cases where tax authorities believe that there is still an outstanding sum". [ [ British Council In Court Over Tax Bill - St Petersburg Times, 20th June 2008] .]


In March 2007, the British Council announced its 'intention to increase its investment in the Middle East, North Africa and Central and Southern Asia'. This will largely be funded by cuts in other services, libraries and office closures across Europe. In June 2007, MPs were told of further closures in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (where there had been a British Council Library since 1946). The British Council libraries in Athens [ [ Athens] library, "Hansard" 27 June 2007] and in Belgrade [ [ New Profile ] ] are also to close. Similarly in India, the British Council Libraries at Bhopal and Trivandrum are facing closure by March, this year. [ [ The Hindu : Kerala / Thiruvananthapuram News : British Library writes its epilogue ] ] as part of the Council's policy to

‘reduce its physical presence’ in the country and to divert funds to mega projects in the fields of culture, education, science and research.
See: for scenes in Trivandrum on the day The British Council closed down the library there.

British Council libraries and offices have also been closed in a number of other countries judged by the British Council to be of little strategic or commercial importance as it refocused its activities on China and The Gulf where it can get a 'bigger bang for the buck'. Council offices were closed in Lesotho, Swaziland, Ecuador and provincial Länder in Germany in 2000–2001 — as well as Belarus — prompting Parliamentary criticism. Subsequent promises by British Council Chair Neil Kinnock to a conference in Edinburgh [ [ Neil Kinnock] at the Edinburgh Festival of Politics, (from about 36-42 minutes into the streaming video clip and the question/answer from about 62 minutes in)] that the Belarus closure would hopefully prove to be just a "temporary" withdrawal proved illusory. The British Council office in Peru also closed in September 2006 as part of a rethink of its strategy in Latin America [ [ Lords Hansard text] , English language advisory services in Peru were moved first to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil then repatriated back to London HQ. "Hansard" Column WA130, 26 June 2006 ] .

Charles Arnold-Baker, author of the Companion to British History said of the British Council's shift in priorities: 'This whole policy is misconstrued from top to bottom. We are going somewhere where we can't succeed and neglecting our friends in Europe who wish us well. The only people who are going to read our books in Beirut or Baghdad are converts already ['Outcry as British Council quits Europe to woo Muslim world' by Helena Smith, Athens "The Observer", 5 August 2007] .

The article also points out that the Institut Français and the Goethe-Institut, unlike the British Council, are both expanding and replenishing libraries Europe-wide. France opened its new library in Tel Aviv in 2007 — just a few months after British Council closed there and shut down the British Council library in West Jerusalem [ [ West Jerusalem] library closure] . In Gaza, the Institut Francais supports the Gaza municipal library in partnership with the local authority and a municipal twinning link between Gaza City and the French port of Dunkerque [ [ Gaza library] Powerpoint presentation] . See also [ [,,2147079,00.htmlFar from quitting, British Council is bridging gaps, letter to "The Observer", 12 August 2007] ]

While Members of Parliament and others have criticised the lack of strong parliamentary accountability for the British Council, the organisation does have close lobbying links to individual parliamentarians. These included the Conservative Party Shadow Culture spokesman Jeremy Hunt MP whose Hotcourses company has close links to The British Council through Sheffield Data Services [ [ Lobbying] example] .

Formally it is to its sponsoring department, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, that the UK Parliamentary Table Office refers any parliamentary questions about British Council [ [ Sponsoring Department] in Hansard 25 June 2007] .

The effectiveness of British Council efforts to promote higher education in China have also recently been examined in England by The House of Commons Select Committee on Education and Skills in a report issued on 5 August 2007 [ [ Promoting higher education] in China] . It expressed concern that in terms of joint educational programmes involving Chinese universities, UK lagged behind Australia, USA, Hong Kong China, Canada and France. In its evidence to this committee, The British Council had argued that "UK degrees are highly valued by international students for their global recognition. International students adopt an essentially utilitarian view of higher education which is likely to increasingly involve consideration of value for money, including opting for programmes at least partly delivered offshore". As their preferred marketing 'model', The British Council gave the example of India where their UK India Education and Research Initiative [ [ UK India Education and Research Initiative] ] is being 'championed' by British multinational oil companies such as BP and Shell, the pharmaceutical giant GSK and arms company BAE Systems [ [ BAe Systems investigation] "The Boston Globe" 27 June 2007] .

Criticism of British Council marketing efforts have also come from Scotland where "The Sunday Herald" obtained documents under the Freedom of Information Act showing that British Council's Marketing Co-ordinator in the USA had been referring to The University of Stirling as 'The University of Sterling' (sic) and also documenting 'tensions' between Scottish Executive civil servants and British Council in India and China over overseas promotion of universities in Scotland where education is a devolved responsibility. "The Sunday Herald" reported that these turf wars were undermining the Scottish Executive's key Fresh Talent policy [ [ "Feuds and turf wars put Fresh Talent flagship plan in jeopardy"] "The Sunday Herald" 30 October 2005] .

After 1998 education and culture in Scotland were devolved to the Scottish Parliament. Charities registered in England (like British Council) which now wish to operate in Scotland are required to register as cross-border charities in Scotland from February 2007.

The activities of British Council were recently (2007/08) scrutinised by the National Audit Office (NAO). The NAO's report, "The British Council: Achieving Impact", concluded ‘that the British Council’s performance is strong and valued by its customers and stakeholders’ [ [ "The British Council: Achieving Impact"] "National Audit Office" 9 June 2008] . As part of its public accountability the British Council also reports yearly to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons and, as requested, to other parliamentary select committees.

Historical anecdotes

Founded in 1934 as the British Committee for Relations with Other Countries, the British Council was inspired by Sir Reginald ("Rex") Leeper's recognition of the importance of "cultural propaganda" in promoting British interests.

It is also featured in one of the scenes in Graham Greene's "The Third Man" — the Wildfred Hyde-White character ("Crabbin") in the film of that novel, worked for The British Council. In 1946, the writer George Orwell advised serious authors not to work for it as a day-job arguing that "the effort [of writing] is too much to make if one has already squandered one's energies on semi-creative work such as teaching, broadcasting or composing propaganda for bodies such as the British Council" (from 'Horizon Questionnaire: The Cost of Letters', in "Horizon", 1946). In her autobiography, Dame Stella Rimington, the first woman head of MI5, mentions working for British Council in India prior to joining the British Intelligence Services. British Council employees also seem to feature regularly in the special section of the UK Honours List reserved for those attached to overseas diplomatic postings despite the ambiguous status of the organisation and confusion over whether they are entitled to normal diplomatic immunities in countries such as Russia. The British Council has been referred to (and its man on-station, "Goole") - frequently in a humorous way by Lawrence Durrell in his collection of anecdotes about a diplomat's life on foreign postings for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office - "Antrobus Complete" [Durrell L (1985) "Antrobus Complete", 202pp, Faber & Faber, ISBN 0-571-13603-6.] .


Chairs of the British Council have been:
* 1934 – 1937 Lord Tyrrell
* 1937 – 1941 Lord Lloyd
* 1941 – 1945 Sir Malcolm Robertson
* 1946 – 1955 Sir Ronald Adam
* 1955 – 1959 Sir David Kelly
* 1959 – 1967 Lord Bridges
* 1968 – 1971 Lord Fulton
* 1971 – 1972 Sir Leslie Rowan
* 1972 – 1976 Lord Ballantrae
* 1977 – 1984 Sir Charles Troughton
* 1985 – 1992 Sir David Orr
* 1992 – 1998 Sir Martin Jacomb
* 1998 – 2004 Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws
* 2004 – present Lord Kinnock


In 2005, along with the Alliance française, the Società Dante Alighieri, the Goethe-Institut, the Instituto Cervantes and the Instituto Camões, the British Council shared in the Prince of Asturias Award for the outstanding achievements of Western Europe's national cultural agencies in communications and the humanities. At the time of this joint award the full extent of The British Council's closure policies in Europe was not yet public knowledge.


See also

External links

* [ British Council official website]

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