Let the British Council die.
After decades of suspect practices, the 80-year old promoter of British cultural hegemony, the British Council, is on the verge of bankruptcy. While its advocates will mourn the supposed loss to culture and bemoan the loss of their own jobs, the demise of the British Council will put an end to a vast network of wealth redistribution, thinly-veiled scams and dodgy diplomatic practices.
For the first time in decades, thanks to the pandemic, educators the world over have become empowered. Huge numbers of teachers - particularly in the language sector - have seen workloads surge, as students take to Zoom and Skype, effectively bypassing an entire rent-seeking educational class that lives off them. Direct teacher-student P2P relationships are flourishing. The rentier middlemen, meanwhile, have suddenly forgotten about Ayn Rand and Hayek and are running, cap in hand, to the government begging for bailouts.
The British Council is among the worst. Covid has forced its entrenched political elite and senior leadership teams to sponge yet more funds from the tax-payer as the organization proves, once again, that it is incapable of adding any meaningful value to the economy. Nearly £100 million in bailouts in 2020 and more in the pipeline. All the while, the entity goes to great lengths to claim autonomy and financial independence from the government. Yet whatever it is – a QUANGO, a non-departmental body, a charity – the organization has consistently lined the pockets of a bloated hierarchy at the expense of the taxpayer.
One example will suffice. Here’s the historical list of British Council chairpersons
· 1934–37 Lord Tyrrell
· 1937–41 Lord Lloyd
· 1941–45 Sir Malcolm Robertson
· 1946–55 Sir Ronald Adam
· 1955–59 Sir David Kelly
· 1959–67 Lord Bridges
· 1968–71 Lord Fulton
· 1971–72 Sir Leslie Rowan
· 1972–76 Lord Ballantrae
· 1977–84 Sir Charles Troughton
· 1985–92 Sir David Orr
· 1992–98 Sir Martin Jacomb
· 1998–2004 Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws
· 2004–09 Lord Kinnock
· 2010–16 Sir Vernon Ellis
· 2016–19 Christopher Rodrigues
· 2019–present Stevie Spring
The upper echelons read like a veritable list of privileged, over-paid political elites - in spite of claims of being non-political - whose names invariably begin with ‘Sir’ or ‘Lord’ or often end with ‘MBE’. ‘Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire’ paints a fairly accurate description of the Council’s covert colonial nature.
At the British Council there are a lot of chiefs but very few Indians. The scheme works like this: massive amounts of funding are received via the Council’s annual state grant and sponsorship by government departments. The elites cream off the lion’s share via inflated salaries for largely worthless jobs with ludicrous titles. Good luck trying to figure out just how many internal boards, executives and directors there are. Teachers salaries, however, are decidedly mediocre. The paltry amount left over is then, supposedly, used to promote culture and education, given that the British Council is officially a non-profit registered charity.
In a UK Parliament’s recent Early Day Motion signed by dozens of bipartisan MPs, it was stated that 4 million people had taken English exams with the British Council generating £125 million for UK exam bodies (out of an annual income of £1.25 billion!) What the motion didn’t mention, however, is that the market-leading exam at international level is IELTS. This exam is a requirement for all foreign students wishing to enter the UK’s university and higher-education system as well as a standard requisite for many employers. Sounds fair? It isn’t. IELTS is 30% owned by the British Council. This resembles something from Hollywood Accounting practices or the Wall Street racketeering playbook. First, you lobby for regulation, then once the laws are in place, you establish yourself as the monopolizing intermediate entity through which everyone and their cash are subsequently funnelled. The IELTS exam, which for decades wasn’t even necessary, costs around £200.
The British Council has been heavily involved in the virtual elimination of the private sector in language teaching. It’s hardly surprising. As a registered non-profit organization, it can evade corporate tax in most countries and undercut the competition. Long gone are the days when something resembling a free market allowed private individuals, schools and companies to flourish. The language learning industry boomed until the British Council’s insidious take-over and sanitization. The past was full of weird and wonderful non-government educational initiatives, methodologies and didactic materials that added far more value to the learning eco-system. Alternative language learning methods, language labs, the Modern School, libertarian non-statist methods, Montessori schools, audio-lingual methods, learn-in-your-sleep cassettes, Suggestopedia, the Silent Way, Esperanto, Basic English, among many others.
The dark, untold history of the British Council, is a story of cultural hegemony and privilege, impediments to entrepreneurship, restrictions on competition, the bureaucratization of the private education sector and the destruction of small independent educational entities. British Council employees have even been jailed for international spying!
It’s a zero sum game. De-funding the British Council will boost the world of non-statist, non-imperialist culture and language, benefiting genuine hard-working teachers and educational services who for years have suffered at its expense. Let it die.