The 2014 Triennial Review of the British Council (BC) found:
‘Conflicts of interest inherent in the present arrangements lead other UK providers of similar products and services to believe that the British Council represents unfair competition. It also finds that there are some grounds for concern that the organisation could be limiting potential opportunities for other UK providers in a growing market where the UK has significant natural advantages. In this regard some transfer of responsibility to UKTI might be appropriate’
So, after years of robust denials that it had any negative impact on other education suppliers . or the education market more generally, the BC had been found out.
For many years big hitting education exporters have complained to successive governments that the British Council was using its privileged, monopolistic position to benefit itself rather than other British based providers, which amounted to a conflict of interest. They argued, rather compellingly, that you can’t promote other UK education providers, abroad(a key role of the BC) while concurrently competing with them, and taking most of the big contracts , from under their noses. The BC is supposed to help the export efforts of UK plc which is why presumably it is still subsidized by the UK taxpayer. But it competes head on with unsubsidized UK companies for big ticket contracts. Often co-located with British embassies it has privileged access to local contacts and local market- sensitive information, care of local diplomats. You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to work out that this is a clear conflict of interest. It also acts as a barrier to market entry for companies who see the dominance of the BC, hear of the way it operates in the market and decide its far too risky to get involved . Small operators often simply get nudged aside or are undermined by the BC. This in turn undermines our education export success.
Education Investor now reports that Derrick Betts, vice president at consultancy firm Parthenon-EY, is to take an externship at UKTI Education commencing in January 2016.
In November 2014, Education Investor reported that audit firm Ernst & Young (EY), Parthenon’s parent company, had been hired to advise on the restructuring of the British Council. The Foreign & Commonwealth Office has asked EY to consider three new operating models for the BC , one of which would involve transferring some of its responsibilities to UKTI Education. (see above)
Some might be worried that there is a conflict of interests here, too . But it could simply be a move that anticipates the results of the Review ie that there will be some transfer of responsibility to UKTI. Matthew Robb, managing director at Parthenon-EY, told Education Investor that: “Derrick is a super hardworking guy with great expertise, particularly in private schools.” UKTI declined to comment on Mr Bett’s appointment.
We shall have to see what happens. But its worth mentioning that the BC has been very good in the past , with FCO support, of course , at protecting what it sees as its interests, (which is not necessarily the same as that of UK taxpayers or suppliers) and it will be lobbying behind the scenes to do just that. Whatever the outcome of the Review ,remember the plight of the small operators . UKTI is interested in the big ticket contracts, and big operators , the smaller ones will probably still have to plough a lonely furrow, under the predatory shadow of the BC.
The Triennial Review