Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the British Council



1.  Background

  The British Council has operated without interruption in Turkey since its establishment in 1940. A Cultural Convention signed in 1952 recognises the Council's role as the principal agency for bilateral cultural relations, and is still in force. Since 1978 the Council has operated as the Cultural section of the British Embassy. This formal status facilitates our relations with governmental institutions without imposing restrictions on our activities. We enjoy excellent relations at all levels of Turkish society. The government gives strong encouragement to European cultural institutions, which are seen as an important underpinning to Turkey's European aspirations.

2.  Regional network

  The Council currently has centres in Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir. In all three locations we offer well-resourced libraries and information services, advice on educational opportunities in Britain and access to British examinations, and programmes of support to English teachers. Ankara is important as the seat of government and the location of a number of Turkey's most important public and private universities. Most of the work we are undertaking to support Turkey's accession to the European Union is managed from this centre. In Istanbul we moved to a new, high-quality building in 2000 which has enabled us to considerably expand our successful English teaching operation—so far our only such operation in Turkey. We now enrol approximately 1,000 students each term. In Izmir our operation was expanded in 2000 from a modest centre providing support to English language teachers into one which offers a full range of services, albeit on a smaller scale than Ankara or Istanbul. Demand, particularly for our library and related services, has been extremely strong and our priority for expansion in the medium term is to relocate to premises which will enable us to meet this demand satisfactorily and at the same time to establish a teaching centre.

3.  Resources

  Turkey is one of the Council's highest priority countries. The grant in aid budget for 2002-03 is £2,360,000. We also receive further funding of £185,000 for education promotion work (Turkey is one of the priority markets under the Prime Minister's initiative to attract more overseas students to Britain). In addition to this, we generate about £1,230,000 of income locally, principally from the teaching centre in Istanbul and from fees charged for British examinations. All sources of local income have been sharply reduced since the sudden and severe devaluation of the Turkish lira in February 2001. Demand for a number of our services-Examinations, English language courses in Britain, library membership, etc., has been much lower than forecast as it has been affected by the economic downturn, although there are now indications of recovery. The present economic climate has also made it much more difficult to attract local sponsorship for our activities, particularly commercial sponsorship for our work in the Arts.

  There are currently 83 members of British Council staff in Turkey, including five UK-appointed managerial staff and 20 teachers and teacher trainers. The directorate is led by Ray Thomas, who is also Cultural Counsellor of the British Embassy in Ankara.

4.  Extending Impact in the Future

  Turkey has a population conservatively estimated to be 67 million, and a land area about three and a half times bigger than the United Kingdom. There are ten urban centres with populations of more than a million people. It also has the youngest age profile of any European country, with 65 per cent of the population aged 30 or less, and the highest rate of population increase. The Council, with three centres, all located in the western half of the country, therefore faces a considerable challenge in achieving a substantial impact from its relatively limited resources.

  Our strategy to meet this challenge is threefold. Firstly, we intend over the coming five years to extend our geographical coverage by opening new centres. Apart from the upgrading and expansion in Izmir mentioned above, we plan to establish new centres on the Asian side of Istanbul (our current building is on the European side) and in Adana in the south-east. These centres will be built around English teaching operations in order to reduce their cost to the grant in aid. Secondly, we will continue our current policy of ensuring that our activities are extended as far as possible beyond the three cities in which we have a physical presence, particularly by maintaining and developing partnerships with local authorities, chambers of commerce, universities and schools. (For example, our work in promoting British English language examinations relies on a network of provincial centres run by teachers with our support). Thirdly, and most importantly, we will continue to exploit new technology, especially the Internet, to provide information and services to people throughout the country.

5.  Exploiting New Technology

  There is no doubt that new communications technologies offer enormous potential to the Council to reach substantially greater numbers of people in Turkey than would be possible through face-to-face contact. The rate of increase in the use of the internet in Turkey is among the highest in the world. When the Council conducted a survey in 1999 to determine how young people in Turkey obtained information about Britain, only 4 per cent cited the internet as their principal source. In 2001, that percentage had increased to 54 per cent. For this reason we invest substantial resources in the maintenance and development of our website , not only as an information tool, but also as a way of engaging with people who might never be able to visit our centres. We are now, for example, delivering teacher training courses over the internet, and offering the facility to borrow books and other materials from our libraries by e-mail. In the last two months alone, the number of visits to our site each month has doubled, from 700,000 to 1,400,000.

6.  Principal Activities and Programmes

  Our overall aim is to win recognition for the UK's values, ideas and achievements, and nurture lasting, mutually beneficial relationships between Turkey and the UK. To achieve this we have identified six key "strategic themes" around which all of our work is organised. These are:

(a)  Supporting Turkey's accession to the European Union

  Turkey's acceptance as a candidate country for EU membership at the Helsinki summit in 1999 has provided an enormous impetus for change in the country, and offers us the opportunity to secure the UK's reputation as the preferred partner, and source of expertise, in the transformation of Turkish society that will be needed.

    —  We work closely with the British Embassy in Ankara to implement projects in human rights, governance and democratic reform funded by the FCO's Human Rights Projects Fund and Global Conflict Prevention Fund and aimed at assisting Turkey to meet the Copenhagen criteria for accession to the EU. Activities over the last three years have included projects in judicial and penal reform, women's and children's rights, and prison reform.

    —  Every two years we organise the Antalya Conference, a high level forum for discussion and debate on issues facing Britain and Turkey in the European context. The first two conferences, in 1998 and 2000, were jointly chaired by Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Erdal Inonu, former Foreign Minister of Turkey, and attracted senior politicians, academics, journalists and business people from Britain, Turkey, and a number of other European countries. The next event is now being planned for October 2002. The Council also organises regular lectures and discussion groups in Turkey on key Accession-related themes.

    —  Turkey will very soon qualify to take part in the European programmes (SOCRATES, LEONARDO, YOUTH, etc) established to promote greater mobility within the EU for young people, students, teachers, academics and researchers. We aim to build a sound platform for the UK and Turkey to benefit from these programmes by developing strong bilateral links. For example, we have recently undertaken a project to train the leaders of Youth organisations in Turkey to develop projects for European funding, and have begun working with the Turkish Higher Education Council to provide assistance in the establishment of their national agency for the European programmes.

(b)  Promoting British Education

  Turkey is a priority market under the Prime Minister's Initiative to attract more overseas students to Britain, and the Council plays a key role in promoting the UK education and training sector in Turkey. Although Turkey has 77 public and private higher education institutions with a total student population of 1.6 million, this is far short of what is needed to meet the demand and only 300,000 of the 1.5 million who apply each year gain access to any form of post-secondary education. Although only a small percentage of these have the financial resources to study overseas, this still represents a substantial market for Britain. There are about 3,000 Turkish students at British Universities at present, the numbers holding steady despite a very substantial fall in the Turkish government's overseas scholarship programme. At the further education level, numbers are growing by 12-15 per cent a year-mostly those attending short English language courses.

    —  Our three centres all offer comprehensive information and one-to-one advice to prospective students, while those unable to visit can access a wealth of information through our website.

    —  We organise an annual British Education Fair in Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir, bringing University representatives to Turkey to recruit students. Over 12,000 visitors attended these events in November 2001.

    —  We provide a full placement service for students wishing to attend a recognised English language school in Britain, and also encourage and support a network of reputable private agents offering a similar service.

    —  There is a growing demand for British examinations, which are seen to represent internationally recognised standards of achievement. We work particularly closely with UCLES (University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate) on the promotion of a range of English language exams, and in particular in making these available in cities outside Ankara, Istanbul and Izmir. The IELTS (International English language testing service) examination is accepted by a number of Universities in Turkey as exempting students from the preparatory year of undergraduate degree courses. Over 7,000 British exams were administered by us in 2001.

    —  In January 2002, we organised a visit to Britain by the President of the Turkish Higher Education Council to initiate partnerships between British and Turkish Universities in the development of joint distance-taught programmes at both the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

(c)  Supporting the teaching and learning of English.

  The demand for English is growing strongly in Turkey, largely at the expense of other European languages such as French and German. English is not only seen as essential to the prospect of education or employment abroad but also as increasingly necessary in obtaining a good job in Turkey—limited employment opportunities mean that those with a high standard of English have a strong competitive edge.

    —  We have expanded our teaching centre in Istanbul, and hope to open further centres there and in other cities in the next 2-4 years. Our aim is not to generate a high volume of students for its own sake but to set the highest possible standards in order to provide a model of excellence in teaching and learning in a distinctively British environment.

    —  We provide extensive support to English teachers throughout Turkey in both the public and private sectors through programmes of teacher training and materials development, both face-to-face and through the web.

    —  Our libraries, although they also support other objectives, are primarily resources for both teachers and learners of English, and offer a comprehensive range of print and non-print materials.

    —  Anadolu University, Turkey's only distance learning institution, has embarked on a programme to train 50,000 English teachers over the next ten years to meet the growing demand within the school system. The Council is working on a number of initiatives to support this programme, including the development of jointly validated qualifications with Universities in Britain.

(d)  Projecting British Creativity, Scientific Innovation, and Cultural Diversity

  The "Through Other Eyes" survey of overseas perceptions of Britain carried out by the Council in 1999 revealed that while young people in Turkey had a generally positive opinion of Britain, there was insufficient awareness and understanding of British creativity and innovation in science, technology and the arts, and of the multicultural nature of modern British society. Our work in these fields is now explicitly directed towards altering perceptions, particularly of young people, and raising awareness of contemporary British society. In the Arts field, although we continue to support a limited number of major cultural festivals, the emphasis is mainly on innovative events which appeal to new audiences and convey the liveliness and diversity of Britain today, particularly in fields such as film, music and dance but also in areas such as design and computer technology. Recent events have included a "virtual" exhibition of works created on, and for, the internet, and a national computer gaming tournament designed not only to attract the interest and participation of a young audience but to make them aware that the software technology involved originates in Britain.

  As well as these activities, the Council supports academic exchanges and joint scientific research projects between Universities in Britain and Turkey in fields as diverse as wetlands ecology and earthquake resistant buildings

(e)  Building Networks

  We believe that we can increase substantially the impact of our work in Turkey by ensuring that we maintain long term relationships, especially with those who have undertaken extended periods of study in Britain and are prepared to work with us in developing closer relations between Britain and Turkey in the future. The Council manages the Chevening scholarship programme in Turkey on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and works closely with the Embassy to ensure that contacts with returned scholars are maintained and developed. There are now over 1,200 ex-Chevening scholars in Turkey, many occupying positions of increasing influence. We devote considerable attention to sustaining relations with them, notably by supporting the national British alumni association, the Turco-British Fellowship Club.

  In December 2001, the Council organised in Turkey a major workshop attended by Council staff and British university alumni from 28 countries to share experience and develop more effective ways of building long-term relationships with alumni in the future.

(f)  "Connecting Futures"

  Connecting Futures is a new initiative which aims to build deeper mutual understanding and respect between people from different cultural backgrounds, and in particular to develop opportunities for dialogue and for genuinely co-operative projects between young people. It will focus initially, but not exclusively, on countries with significant Muslim populations, in recognition of current political concerns. Turkey is one of the countries which will be involved in the initiative.

  Details of the initiative as it will be implemented in Turkey are not yet finalised, but the programme will certainly focus on increasing contacts and exchanges between young people in Britain and Turkey, both face-to-face and virtually. It is also likely to involve increased exchanges between teachers, building on the huge demand that exists for the training of English teachers in Turkey. Turkey's position as a secular republic in which the overwhelming majority of the population is Muslim also means that it can make a unique contribution to such an initiative.

The British Council

January 2002

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