Today the news of the Triennial Review, together with some commentary, was published on “Education Investor” which includes a selection of quotes from the report, and commentary from Patrick Watson of Montrose Associates, Sir Vernon Ellis who is chair of the British Council, and from yours truly. I trust Education Investor will not take me to be in breach of copyright if I reproduce the comments here: my point is that the comments demonstrate precisely why the British Council needs a new model of governance and leadership.
First, the comments:
Patrick Watson of Montrose Public Affairs welcomed the review. “There have always been concerns expressed by education providers directly to ministers that the British Council operates with a unfair advantage in the market.
“Providers have been unsure of the rules of engagement – when is the council working with them in partnership to promote British education interests, and when is it competing with them to secure commercial deals for itself.”
David Blackie, managing director of International Education Connect, which runs the course listings site English in Britain, said the review was "not radical enough to satisfy those who the council competes with", but a “step in the right direction”. “If the recommendations are carried out and acted upon with zeal there will be a new culture within the organisation,” he said.
Sir Vernon Ellis, chair of the British Council said: “We agree that our significant growth and the increased importance and complexity of our relations with government and other stakeholders has given rise to a number of important issues that need to be addressed.”
Compare and contrast. The two outsiders here are concerned about unfair competition, lack of clarity about the role of the organisation and the need for change, while the insider refers to “important issues” arising from the organisation’s “increased importance” vis-à-vis government. Has anybody really expressed concerns about increased importance? A keyword search in the report for “unfair competition” reveals that Sir Vernon wrote to the review director with a specific rebuttal of the notion of unfair competition. Why do you imagine he would do that? So let us at least eliminate this latest attempt at obfuscation. The important issues that need to be addressed are not (for heaven’s sake) a function of any “increased importance”, and despite the British Council Chair’s choice of language, are nothing new and are not of recent development. The ingrained problems lie in the habits of secrecy, obfuscation, narrow self-interest, misrepresentation and the use of multiple privileges to ensure a tilted playing field – a.k.a. unfair competition – wherever the organisation senses that there’s money to be made.
The FCO Triennial Review gets it. At some point the British Council trustees have to get it too.