It was the unspeakable Blair who in 1999/2000 introduced something called the “Prime Minister’s Initiative” with a view to increasing the number of international students in Britain. The aim in this case may have been laudable even if today it looks quaint, but the execution, as with so many plums dropped into the lap of the British Council, was deeply flawed. The Council was of course very excited by the project, linking the org as it did with Downing Street, and promising, as indeed it delivered, another British Council gongfest. The lead product, the flagship of the “PMI”, was the Education UK website, of which the British Council said:
“We believe that when complete, the Education UK web site will be a valuable and effective tool for global promotions and one that will place the UK well ahead of its international competitors.”
It was never any good. Nothing worked well, and while only the English language course content was actually removed following sector protests pending some derivative revision over an extended period in 2002, other bits survived. Confronted with the reality of the site’s failures, the British Council made a virtue of its role in specifically promoting higher education, and pointed to university courses as being the main event, the principal raison d'être for the beast. And indeed the organisation enjoyed more success selling that service domestically than they managed in any other sector. But it was, as it still is, dire. Quite apart from being virtually unusable, it is completely unrepresentative of UK HE.
It’s not just the old chestnut of no profile for Oxford and Cambridge which, like it or not, are Britain’s best known universities. What about Bath, Birmingham, Durham, Imperial and Liverpool, or indeed the forty others who have chosen to abstain? Not even Glasgow Caledonian participates these days and their VP was a British Council trustee (a post which still has pride of place on her CV) and a high profile supporter of the Education UK notion. There is also no Lancaster, no Reading, no Southampton, no Strathclyde and no Wolverhampton – so many others are marked by their non-participation. And if a student should be interested in studying at one of these excellent universities and tries to find a profile for such institutions what do they get? They get zilch. Here’s Reading, for example:
University of Reading
PO Box 217
That’s it. No link to their website, no address, no email address, no phone, not even a postcode to help a lost student find their way to the uni by satnav. And yes, there’s no more either for Glasgow Caledonian. Can there ever have been a more useless service provided in our names?
But that deplorable and embarrassing failure is actually the best of Education UK. The position today is that while many UK universities apparently still subscribe to this service, the UK education sector as a whole has overwhelmingly rejected it. In plain English: UK Education rejects Education UK. Even in English language teaching, where the Council aspires to a positive reputation, Education UK has been rejected by 87% of the organisations the British Council has itself accredited. It has also been rejected by 97% of Further Education Institutions and 99% of boarding schools. That doesn’t leave much. Such a minimal level of endorsement is all but incredible given that the organisation, the British Council, is embedded in embassies and high commissions, has offices worldwide, gets millions from the taxpayer, and is the first choice of the Establishment whenever education is mentioned in an international context. To start with such an enormous monopoly advantage and then to turn it into such deplorable failure takes some doing.
And why is the Education UK site rejected? Because it’s no bloody good. Never was, never will be. It reflects badly on Britain, reveals chronic lack of confidence in the British Council and its supposed “representative” role, and as a device to represent the interests of UK Education it is manifestly not fit for purpose.
Education UK is a 14 year old car crash. Kill it.