Credit where it’s due. They have clearly been driven into a cul-de-sac where a degree of candour offered the only way out, but at least someone in the British Council has finally had the courage to admit that the organisation has blundered. In what is surely a first it has agreed to offer full or partial refunds to “Education UK” subscribers for the period since March this year. For ELT it is refunding the cost per day x the number of days x 100%. Which I think everyone can take to be an admission of 100% cockup. The full text of the letter will be found here: Download Bcedukletter.
Consider for a moment the damage that has been done. The British Council might pretend to draw encouragement from their own user survey (although I cannot imagine that the many students referred to the site who find it unusable would stay to fill in any survey at all) but the simple reality is that the organisation has used taxpayers’ money and the machinery of government to send students to a site which is so bad that everyone gets their money back. Well, actually not everybody, because there will be no refund to the taxpayer for the extraordinary waste of public money, no refund to the schools and colleges who have lost business as students, parents and agents gave up trying to use a dysfunctional site, and – interest declared – no refund to the businesses compromised by the organisation using taxpayers’ money to divert monies into its own pockets.
Consider the ELT sector. When the British Council handed the responsibility for all products and services for the ELT sector to my company 1998-2003, without it costing the organisation or the taxpayer a penny piece, we supplied the services worldwide and managed to recruit 330 of the potential 357 accredited organisations to our website and ancillary publishing services. Today the potential number is (according to Education UK) 474 accredited organisations, and the British Council with all its muscle, taxpayers’ money, diplomatic status and government powers has recruited 188 of them. A fall from 92.4% of the available subscribers to 39.6%. These are ELT organisations which have an absolute requirement for international students, for international contacts, for marketing publicity, and who are all beholden to the British Council for their accreditation and so for staying in business. The majority of them reject what the British Council has to offer, and the rest have evidently asked for their money back.
Refunds or no refunds, trying to patch up Education UK is not the solution. What is needed now is for the organisation to accept that this activity is not something it should be involved in, is not something it has ever done with any skill or success, is an area where it has a long term and consistent record of failure and damage, and that it is something that is done very much better, more cheaply and more productively by others. The British Council should back off.