Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 62 - 79)




  62. We welcome you. May I welcome you Baroness Kennedy, Chair of the British Council; Mr David Green who is very well-known to our Committee as Director-General; and Mr Andrew Fotheringham, Director, Planning Research and Evaluation. Baroness Kennedy, you may have heard my question to the predecessor World Service colleagues in relation to the degree of co-operation and co-ordination between you, the British Council, and the World Service. Can you give the picture from your perspective.

  (Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) I heard Mr Byford describing it as being in the order of 50 projects. Indeed, it is over 60 projects and we feel that the collaboration has strengthened considerably in the last few years. There has always been collaboration between the World Service and the British Council, particularly in the delivery of educational services. It is on that education front that real co-operation can take place with the broadcasting expertise of the BBC and then the educational and teaching expertise from the Council side, and in bringing those two things together you can deliver a very good product. We have strengthened that considerably and, as I have said, there are now 60 projects. Many of the projects in which we are now involved are broader than the traditional educational ones. We are doing many more around civil society building and strengthening democracy. We have been doing a number of projects on journalism courses bringing in again the expertise from broadcasters.

  63. Bringing in journalists?
  (Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) Bringing journalists to the United Kingdom or sending people out to take part in fora in their part of the world to deal very directly with the problems journalists face and trying to create a free press in parts of the world where that tradition has not existed. That is another area of project work where there has been great collaboration. I have been very involved with it myself because there has been marvellous human rights work where basically they can have discussions and debates on the radio and then give some reference to the work which we are doing on the ground as well, strengthening links between the legal profession here in Britain with lawyers working in emerging democracies in areas where human rights issues are very tested and in strengthening the links between the judiciary and so on.

  64. So if you were to project three years hence are there any areas where you think there could be closer co-operation?
  (Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) I think that there is obviously an exponential growth of what we have already been doing. I think there is potential for doing more work on civil society building and creating links using broadcasting at one level but then with us on the ground, with people who are building up organisations very similar to organisations which have existed here for many years, and creating those links using broadcasting as one of the mechanisms. We can see lots of creative ways in which we could do that much more effectively.

  65. Can you give an example. I know that you have some expertise in Africa of judicial proceedings, as we appeared together recently on that. Can you give some examples in that field of where you think there could be productive co-operation?
  (Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) In Africa a lot of our work is around helping develop the great potential of African people in areas of leadership in becoming community leaders. People say to me that the hope for Africa is often amongst many of its women folk who are really fantastic women working in the communities doing fantastic things, particularly in areas where many of their men folk have been laid low by terrible tragic events like the Ruandan massacres. Women are at the heart of regenerating societies. We have created real links with women's groups here, with women politicians here, with organisations here that help develop women's strengths. In that field, for example, in broadcasting we could develop that too. We had a wonderful Scottish journalist/broadcaster Lesley Riddoch who went out and worked with women and men in the field who were bringing up those issues which were very much development issues for women, around education, around health issues, and having them reported in ways that were not being covered in the media in many of these African countries. That development of journalists, of health sector leaders, of community leaders is a way in which we could collaborate even better with the World Service.
  (Mr Green) Can I add on the subject of collaboration with the BBC World Service the project Mark Byford referred to in Beijing the CELLS project, which stands for Centres for English Language Learning Support, has just been launched in January and we believe that will make a very significant difference to state education for English language teaching. You asked the question about further collaborations. We would like to see that project rolled out in other parts of the world, in particular the Middle East, Russia, and perhaps also parts of Africa, for example Francophone Africa. There is huge potential there bringing together a broadcasting organisation and our very extensive English language learning experience.

Mr Olner

  66. You mentioned about building civil societies. In the last spending review new money was targeted at extending your operations in Russia, China and India. In hindsight and in the light of the events of 11 September, might these funds have been spent in the Muslim world?
  (Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) One of the things that we felt very strongly was that there has to be an intensification of our work in the Islamic world. You are absolutely right about that. In retrospect could that money have been better spent there? We were reflecting what was seen as being general Foreign Office and Government concerns, cross party concern that we should be doing serious work in Russia and China. These are huge, huge nations which are on the cusp of joining into global activity in a way they had not before and there is a role that we could play in helping to create opportunities for Britain in strengthening those relationships. It was very much a reflection of the priorities that were being set at that time by the Foreign Office. I would not in any way demur from that. If you were to go to Russia—and I was there a month ago—and you see the roll out of work the Council is doing, particularly on education and helping the reform of the education sector, it is quite phenomenal and we could repeat that in other parts of the world. The other thing we are doing is reforming the legal system. The courts were really in some difficulties and the work that we have done in strengthening their legal system and helping them create an independent judiciary and helping with that process has been fundamental because nobody wants to do business with places that do not have a legal system which will recognise and respect their contracts.

  67. It is a question again of money.
  (Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) It is of course always about how you use your money. I do not think we can get away from the fact we have to invest in those big areas of Russia and China. What we are saying now is if there are any lessons from 11 September it is that a gear shift has to take place in relation to our work in the Islamic world. It has to be about reaching younger people, a different generation. The outreach to the young in the Islamic world must be a priority and that is why that whole project of Connecting Futures is one to which we are giving high priority in our new spending round.

  68. Specifically, Chairman, on that sort of area and Connecting Futures, what have been the findings of your detailed research between the 5,000 young people and their views on the United Kingdom? Then specifically the Muslim element within that?
  (Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) There is a schizophrenia here. Part of it is seeing Britain as a rather old-fashioned country. That has its good and bad sides because what is old-fashioned is being about the very things that are good values. We have a very historic, democratic system and they see all that as being one of the things that they perceive about Britain which is that it is an old country. Yet for many young people they also separate it out from the fact that they see some of our culture as very much at the cutting edge, our music world, much of the world of modern technology. We are at the forefront of creating computer games apparently. Many of those creative industries are recognised by youth around the world as being something very distinctive about Britain and very modern. They also see a lot of things as being very old-fashioned. A lot of countries—and this has to be a clear message to us—see us as being over-closely linked to the United States. This was a message that came very strongly to us from young people in the Islamic world. They do not hear our views as being a distinct voice from that of the American voice and they hear it as being a single voice.

  69. How do you explain that when in the United Kingdom we have got second and third generation Pakistani immigrants over here? I would have thought the real views of what happens in the UK would have filtered back to these societies.
  (Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) That is one of the interesting things. Despite that huge diaspora community here in Britain of people from the Islamic world, generally speaking, young people around the world—and here I am not just talking about Islamic young people—do not recognise Britain as being as diverse as it actually is. It is not recognised just how multi-cultural Britain is. One of the messages that we feel is a priority for us is to represent Britain as it really is in all of that rich diversity, which is one the things that we should be proud of and we should celebrate. It comes as a surprise to people, even people in the Islamic world, particularly in the Arab world, that we are as diverse as we actually are. The other thing where there were lessons for us is we have to be making stronger connections between our own minority communities here in Britain and the Islamic world beyond. It is why one of the important elements in this new programme Connecting Futures is to make sure that we create links between our minority communities and the world of Islam outside and to make those links much clearer. In the recent forum we had we made sure there was a strong representation of young people from Bradford, from Burnley, from places with huge Islamic communities, so that they could make their voice heard in this youth forum.

  70. When do you intend to go back to these 5,000 young people and re-examine this because the world for young people moves on fairly quickly and the rise of the extreme right within Europe must be starting to make some sort of difference in their minds? When are you going to go back to get this added information?
  (Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) Rather than seeing it as going back, what it has taught us—and we have always worked with young people, I do not want you to imagine that we have not—is that there has to be a strengthening of work in this area particularly around strengthening understanding. One of the problems about it is that we often talk about dialogue but dialogue means real listening as well as talking. I am afraid we sometimes do not get that quite right. In having that dialogue and bringing young people together it has to be a continuing thing. Rather than going back to the 5,000 what we are feeling is there has to be a real concentration of our work around creating continuous dialogue between young people in Britain and young people around the world generally, but particularly we want to make sure that is happening with the Islamic world where very often there is a break down of communication and a real conversation does not actually take place. So it to be continuing rather than re-visiting those 5,000. It is about redirecting our work.


  71. How do you then meet the cynics who say that this forum brought together a small number of young people, what is the benefit of that, it is a mere drop in the ocean, what possible overall conclusions can you draw from such a small experiment?
  (Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) Except that it does not work quite like that, Chairman, because what happened was that from each of the Islamic countries, who chose very carefully young men, women, many of them still students, some of them still at school, some of them older but beginning their professional lives as young lawyers, young teachers, they came and they will go back to Iran or to Saudi Arabia and our people in the British Council know them and our people will continue to work in creating further groups of activity there, going into education, bringing some people out of Britain. It is a cascading activity.

  72. How many people came from Iran?
  (Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) I think we brought three from Iran.

  73. You brought three from Iran, a country of what, 60-odd million people?
  (Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) You have got to remember we have only just recently opened a British Council office in Iran. Iran was closed to us for rather a long time. We have started off tentatively, most of our work there now is educational and we are building links with those in the universities. It is one of the things that we have to keep reminding people about the British Council, that we are not in this business for the short-term, we are here in creating long-term relationships and we are here in the process of building something up and that is how it works. Unfortunately, as we know, too often people want returns immediately and the British Council's work is not like that.

  74. Three people go back to Iran, what is their part of the compact, what are they meant to do?
  (Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) I am going to turn to David Green because he can tell you, but as I understand it one of them, for example, was a woman who runs a women's organisation inside one of the major universities in Tehran and she went back quite interested in keeping links with women's organisations here in Britain and wanting her women's organisation to have that way of keeping a connection. They also have a network through the Internet. David can fill in on the way he sees it.
  (Mr Green) The important point was this was a forum which engaged people from the ten priority countries in the Arab and Islam world, including Iran, and also 25 participants in the UK. It was about making connections between young people in the UK and in those ten countries. The other important point was that from each of the countries we brought a journalist amongst the young people and they were all aged between 16 and 25 and none of them had been to the UK before. Part of the compact was that they went back and they were part of talking about their experiences and disseminating those experiences amongst their colleagues, amongst their institutions, amongst their friends. We see it as an important start in building those networks. The research that was referred to will be an important body of information. The actual fine tuning of it, the analysis of it, is going on at the moment and will be available at the end of this month when we will publish it. That will answer some of the questions about what these young people's aspirations are and what they actually do think of the United Kingdom and, perhaps critically, how they gain information about what is happening in the world, what are their sources of information.
  (Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) We learned a lot, not just the British Council but many British organisations of young people learned a lot from making that contact. It is as important that we learn about the thinking of many young people in those parts of the world as the reverse.

  75. I hear you on that, it is clearly how representative are the representatives. You have an enormous problem in finding people who will indeed reflect adequately the groups from which they come.
  (Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) It is a great challenge.

  76. Can I turn to the Madrassa schools. I see that you are doing work both in Pakistan and in Bangladesh in respect of Madrassas. Clearly following 11 September they had a certain dubious reputation for being breeding grounds for terrorists and extremists, having a very poor quality of religious education, limited, confined and so on. How do you address this sort of problem of the current reputation and the very limited education which they provide?
  (Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) Of course, we are as guilty here in Britain of sometimes getting false perceptions as other parts of the world are about getting false perceptions of us. While it is fair to say that Madrassas can be breeding grounds for fundamentalists and, if you like, hostility to the West, it is not true of all Madrassas. We have been asked and invited to work with a number of them in Pakistan and Bangladesh, but mainly in Pakistan, where they are interested in looking at, for example, English language, the use of IT in the development of education, training for headmasters, one of the things that has been developed here in Britain which they are very interested in. Many of those schools are not as we perceive them to be as a result of the recent publicity.

  77. General Musharraf himself has had great reservations about the schools and their product. Presumably you are working closely with the Pakistani authorities in this respect?
  (Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) It is not the Pakistani authorities who are necessarily the best informants on this, it is much better having your ear to the ground. The British Council's great strength is that as an organisation it is very good at getting below the surface and finding out exactly what the position is. We would only be working with schools where we do believe that there is actually an openness to different kinds of ideas and an exchange. That is where we feel it is valuable to put effort and work because if you are going to do this kind of thing then education and the teaching area is one of the areas where ideas are rooted as we know.
  (Mr Green) Can I just add that as well as working at grass roots level we invited the Federal Minister for Education, Mrs Zobaida Jalal, over to the UK. She came about six weeks ago and her agenda was exactly as Baroness Kennedy said in terms of looking at management of schools, use of IT and so on. She is very keen that we help to reform the curricula in the Madrassas and to help them look at those issues of reform that they have identified.

Mr Illsley

  78. I am going to come on to the Knowledge and Learning Centres. Your new Knowledge and Learning Centres are IT based. Are these going to be a substitute for the old-fashioned British Council libraries? Will the two run side-by-side or are you moving towards a more online service, a more Internet based service?
  (Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) It really is an elaboration of the work of the Council as it always has been, except that we are harnessing the new technology in very exciting ways. It does not mean the elimination of books from any of our operations. I was at the opening of two of the Knowledge and Learning Centres, the one in New Delhi which was opened in January when the Prime Minister was in India, and the second one was in Belgrade just a month or so ago. The book libraries are there still but more than just providing, if you like, online opportunities what is fantastic about the Knowledge and Learning Centres is that they actually can do much more than that. In Belgrade I was present when they had a youth parliament where we had young people in Belgrade from Serbia, from Kiev, linked up with young people in Britain and young people in Paris talking about what does it mean to have national identity, what does your national identity mean. If ever there was an issue you can see that just now it is absolute courant. It was very interesting to hear people talking about what national identity meant to them in those four places where you can understand the resonances would be very interesting and to talk about whether diversity was something that could be embraced and to hear young people in Britain talking about how we have now had devolution and yet there is a sense of civic nationalism rather than ethnic nationalism in a place like Scotland where Pakistanis can proudly call themselves Scots, and so can Italians, Irish and so on, and you do not have this ethnic issue, which was quite interesting to many of the young Serbian people. You had this all happening on one screen where you could move between them, a bit like the Eurovision Song Contest, and they were taking part in a debate. That will be used for educational purposes, for journalists being brought together on journalist training programmes, on leadership programmes, on all sorts of possibilities where you are going to be able to use technology with Britain being at the lead in this kind of thing.

  79. There is no danger of leaving behind the people who do not have access to new technology or who are unfamiliar with it?
  (Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws) You have got to remember you do not leave them behind because the people who come into the British Council for books will also be excited about the opportunity of being able to access, as they do in Delhi, technology which they could not afford. The other thing is that using technology and linking it up to other partners in places means you have a bigger reach. People can have access to the British Council from places where their university might have a link or their high school or their town hall but they would not be able to have access to the British Council because it is not in their particular town. So you reach even more people and that is one of the great things, that it gives us even greater reach than before.

  Chairman: Before calling Sir John on funding matters, Mr Olner has a question.

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