Duke of York labels British Council “ Evasive”


Wellington College hosted  its second conference on exporting UK education last week  titled “Brand UK: Why British Schools and Universities Should Set up Abroad”.

The conference was marked by a robust speech from the Duke of York in his capacity as the UKs Special representative  for International Trade and Investment . HRH has made no secret of the importance he attaches to education, generally, and how the UK has  a  competitive advantage in worldwide education with a   sound reputation and good brand. But there are  real threats to our competitiveness , which others will  seek to  exploit . He   said that he was acutely aware  of the problem of the UK visa regime impeding access of foreign students and academics   to UK universities. The new regime is designed to make it harder for bogus students to come to the  UK but its effect and the way it is being managed serves to prevent some bona fide applicants even applying. They will look elsewhere . He said that he might be constitutionally constrained in what he could do  personally  but  recommended everyone  at the conference write to their MPs to  suggest a re-think, sooner rather than later, as changes will take time to implement.

He then moved on to the policy confusion over responsibility for helping UK education  firms access overseas markets. He identified a long standing and sensitive issue for suppliers ,the  dilemma and conflict of interests   presented by  the dual roles   of the  British Council being  both a competitive provider of education services  while concurrently  seeking to represent UK education and cultural interests abroad, for which it receives public funds . This  needs to be resolved. While he could see that the British Council was obliged to indulge in commercial activities  in order to make money that would otherwise not be available from the public purse, the Prince also made  it very clear that any perceived shortfall in BC funding  did not justify the use of public money to support commercial competition with independent providers. HRH  said that when he  recently questioned the CEO (Martin Davidson) of the British Council on issues related to  competition he was ‘Evasive’. In the circumstances, and given his position,  this was extraordinarily robust criticism from HRH.

British education, HRH  added, needs a brand image or kite mark that is recognised as a quality standard in overseas markets





  1. Brilliant. HRH York is spot on. The BC is a chameleon, trying to be all things to all people. But it is fundamentally dishonest, managing to hide behind the skirts of the FCO and, also, its name, The British Council, which gives it a totally unmerited prestige. The BC can not do both: be in business and support British business. Stop, for example, all English Language teaching and support private companies in this work. As a government quango it should stick to promotion. It will be interesting to read its Business Plan which the BC informs me will be available in early December. It is not at all surprising that it is taking a long time to produce this document.

    • Thanks. Kevin McNeany probably the most successful UK education entrepreneur has written to Nick Gibb about the BC and its anti-competitive practices… others are lining up to write to other Ministers responsible for public sector reforms. BC very upset at HRH criticism…. things might change but now is time to exert real pressure

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