It's not so long ago that we reported on the British Council kissing goodbye to £85,000 because someone thought to have a petal-soft cheek was buying lorry loads of loo paper. This has now been topped in Nigeria (and who knows how many other places) by some clueless berk passing invoices for cleaning for over seven years probably totalling in excess of £375,000. You can see how it happens. They have as we have just seen long term monopoly contracts that act in nobody's interests, and are wide open to being taken by people who realise that the org knows nothing about money because it is so used to being given it by the taxpayer. You and I would notice if someone spent £85,000 more than usual on toiletries. Not the British Council. And £375,000 on unsupplied cleaning? Again, not the British Council. Fortunately, even those two frauds added together add up to a lot less than the subsidy the taxpayer provides them with every day. Nice work.
Another British company has had to learn the lesson that the British Council cannot be trusted, and had to realise that the state-sponsored organisation not yet grasped the difference between fair competition and theft. In this case we have a company that sought appropriate assistance, paying UKTI for their role and using the other taxpayer funded services of the British Council, in order to research and then set up an all UK educational exhibition - a first in Azerbaijan. So what did the British Council do next? The story is all here so I won't repeat it. But I feel anger and indignation that the British Council continues to be allowed to operate in this deeply dishonest way just to line its own pockets, even now 11 years after we first drew attention to such behaviour.
These ensuing 11 years have revealed that the British Council is in effect licensed to act dishonestly, to poach the business of genuine enterprise, to leach on others' initiatives, to steal ideas and above all to undermine the efforts of others in order better to help themselves (and they can organise cyphers with titles to have all that officially denied as well). That license is granted by the FCO (who wouldn't know how to spell enterprise, much less understand what it is), the hopeless FAC, the inert NAO and PAC, and the ever indulgent and supine Charity Commission. Plus support groups in the Commons and the Lords, chums at the Beeb and so on. And the so-called trustees of the British Council - "trustee" being yet another concept to have lost its value in 21st century Britain - are all parti pris. The institutions are not to be trusted and there exists no apparent democratic means to address the outrage. Bad stuff.
The British Council’s “Chief Executive”, like his
predecessor, sends out regular puffletters to British Council employees, who
probably just yawn; the letters are boring and monotonous. But I am going to
quote from the most recent one, just so any British readers who may be
taxpayers understand the mindset of the management of this absurd organisation.
If you read the press as it normally refers to the organisation, it tends to
say the BC “which promotes Britain abroad” or “promoting British culture and
the English language” or similar. In fact the instinct of the organisation is
to stick its oar into everything. So, try this from the latest puffletter:
start we will be celebrating Chinese New Year next week with the distribution
of educational packs and lesson plans on Chinese language and culture to over
10,000 schools in the UK. We will also be running the 10th British
Council/HSBC Mandarin speaking competition.
anybody who knows me will confirm, I am not even remotely anti-Chinese,
anti foreign culture, anti foreign
languages etc., so let’s not depart from the issue here. Is it the British
Council’s job to decide what should be taught in our schools, or is there
perhaps a government department that exists for that purpose? Is promoting
Chinese the British Council’s business at all? Is there anything about this in
the British Council’s charter? If so, let’s see it. We have learned to expect
nothing of use from the “trustees” of the British Council, but perhaps one of
those parliamentary committees which from time to time lob soft and obsequious questions
in the direction of British Council management could ask them what they are
What next? Intelligence tests for tourists? The British
economy is, by common consent, going down the tubes, and the massively
successful international education industry instead of getting government
encouragement or even, gulp, support is being strangled. But it doesn’t stop
there – we are also making it hard for anyone to come in who might help the
economy by, say, walking round the Tower of London, Stonehenge, or Edinburgh
Castle and spending their money here as tourists, and so developing a taste for
and interest in the country and our goods and services. Whereas a Chinese
tourist can get easy access to the Schengen group of European countries, if he
or she wants to come to the UK
“At present, Chinese tourists are forced to have their
fingerprints taken at a centre in China, face higher fees and have to complete
a lengthier application form than if they want to visit most other countries in
So not exactly a warm welcome.
But here’s the killer. When this cost to the British economy
was put to the Home Office, The Telegraph reports, their spokesman said “We are
open to the brightest and best”. I mean, would you Adam and Eve it? One
fatheaded government minister (or lackey) after another trots out this formula
as if it was some sort of saving grace and made sense. It would make as much
sense, no, rather more in fact, if guards were posted at the door of the House
of Commons canteen and applied the same criteria to any MP who wanted to enter.
Not many would get their lunch.
Yes, Bojo gets it. It’s a pity the Home Office and UKBA do
not. And of course Bojo can only speak for London (officially anyway). If the government was courageous enough to
recognise that an international student is not the same thing as an immigrant
and bring an end to the nonsense whereby they are cutting the throats of our
educational institutions in order to please their right wing and attract the
xenophobic vote, that would be an
important step in the right direction. And also if the government could stop
trotting out this “brightest and best” formula, that would surely help too. Of
course the better research universities want the brightest and best, but a)
they don’t always get them (plenty of evidence for that) and b) that has
nothing to do with the crucial argument relating to the economy. What the
schools and universities here need above all is enrolments from students who
are willing and able to pay for the superior services on offer. It is US who
must be the brightest and the best, and it is sad that we get such a duff lead
from the short planks in Westminster.
But the pillocks in the Home Office still witter on about
getting “the brightest and best” students while insisting they must be counted
as immigrants. They are going to lose the argument of course, but by that time
these bloody fools will have done untold damage to the international education
industry in the UK, to the UK’s international standing and to its economy. More
Damian Green claims
in today’s press “we have already seen the number of student visas issued drop
by 30% in the 12 months to June 2012, compared with the same period in 2011”. Perhaps, dear boy, but as the Public Accounts Committee point out in today’s
"The result of the agency's poorly planned and ill
thought-out course of action was chaos: an immediate high level of abuse of the
new system and a surge in the number of student visas. In 2009 the number of
migrants who abused the student route to work rather than study went up by as
much as 40,000 to 50,000.”
In other words the abuse was actually caused by the
government’s totally mismanaged policy, and by quoting a drop using 2011 as the
base, all this man is saying is that he is beginning to sort out his own mess.
But of course he isn’t. He is just creating a new and more
damaging one. I hold no particular brief for London Metropolitan University, but the VC Malcolm
Gillies seems to be pretty confident that the UKBA report is “highly flawed” and
on current form you would have to say he is likely to be right.
We have already remarked several times (e.g. here)
on the fatheaded policy of this government with regard to international
students. It’s worse than that however. Cameron, May, Green and co. have two very
serious blindspots. The first is that they think it’s OK to put international
students in the same category as immigrants, in order that they can reduce
their immigration figures (to win the xenophobic votes that might otherwise go
to the BNP or UKIP) by reducing student numbers. The second is that these
irresponsible vandals are destroying our international education industry, a
fantastic post-war success story which has helped to counter the decline of traditional
strengths in manufacturing, mining and so on, and to limit the damage caused by
the new decline in our financial services sector. They are making a big
mistake. A very big mistake.
In the case of London Metropolitan University the government
has shown that it has abandoned the principle of fair play for which this
country was once famed. Why on earth should thousands of legitimate,
respectable, fee-paying international students, engaged on a vital career path,
be made to pay for administrative systems for which they have no
responsibility, and in which they have no involvement? These are shameful
bully-boy tactics which will do enormous damage to our educational
institutions, our international standing, and our economy. Not just three short planks, but three bloody
fools, and dangerous with it.