WELLINGTON COLLEGE CONFERENCE
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