Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Supplementary memorandum from the British Council

  Please find enclosed an explanatory note, as requested by the Committee, on how we have managed to continue our operations during the recent difficulties in the Palestinian territories.

  May I once again thank you for the opportunity of presenting our spending review proposals to the Committee, and for the chance to exchange views with you and your colleagues on current work and future strategy.

  On the question of whether or not we are losing ground to the Americans in English language teaching in the Far East, I am pleased to be able to say that our statistics show an overall increase of 9 per cent in our top five teaching centres in the region. We do not believe that there is any threat to our share of the market from American penetration.

  You may also be interested to know that the mainly British test of IELTS will, on our projections, shortly displace the US TOEFL test as the leading international test of English in China. I have passed this information on to Sir John Stanley who raised the question.

  On the issue of the numbers attending the recent Connecting Futures Youth Forum, we appreciate that these were, as you pointed out, small. The purpose of the event was to test a model of how to bring young people from differing backgrounds together and involve them in the design of larger-scale activity for the future. In order to encourage a cascade of ideas and experience we included in the event young journalists from each country group taking part. On a visit to Turkey last week a colleague met Hilal Koylu, a young female journalist on the Daily Radikal in Ankara. Hilal had written an in-depth article for her paper which had sparked a lot of email and telephone feedback from young people wanting to know more.

  We are confident that the scale we are proposing would have a significant impact on encouraging mutual understanding between young people in the UK and those in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

  The design of future activities will also be informed by research to be published in early June and I will arrange for the findings to be sent to you as soon as they are ready.

  I enclose a booklet[7] showing how Bangladesh is taking forward the initiative which is real evidence of scaling up.

British Council


  1.  The British Council has sought to maintain a strong and visible presence in the Palestinian territories and to undertake as many of its activities as possible during the current difficulties.

  2.  We continue to fulfil as far as we can our obligations to our main sponsors, such as the FCO (including implementation of the Palestinian rights programme under the Human Rights Project Fund), DfID and the World Bank, and remain committed to our objective of winning recognition in the territories for the UK's values, ideas and achievements.

  3.  While our office in East Jerusalem and branches in Gaza, Ramallah, Hebron and Nablus have had to close intermittently over the past eighteen months (and particularly since March this year), we have tried to surmount operational problems by continuing activity from other centres as far as possible.

  4.  An explosion at our premises in Gaza on 8 May demonstrated the kind of difficulties the Council has been operating under. As a consequence, we closed all our offices in the Palestinian territories while we undertook a security review. They were all re-opened in the following week, with the exception of Hebron, which was due to close permanently next month.

  5.  We believe it is of critical importance that we maintain as high a profile as possible to demonstrate our commitment to the building of lasting, mutual beneficial relations between Palestinians and the United Kingdom.

  6.  But we also maintain an obligation to our staff to protect their safety. Restrictions on the movement of Palestinians within the territories has meant that many members of staff have had to work out of different offices, while retaining their original functions.

  7.  It has been impossible for us to base UK-appointed staff outside east Jerusalem, while their movements in the West Bank and Gaza have been highly restrictive. On FCO advice, we have had to suspend our teaching operations in Ramallah and Gaza.

  8.  It has also proved impossible to bring UK contacts to the West Bank or Gaza, and the restrictions on movements are making the possibilities for Palestinians themselves to visit the UK difficult.

  9.  As a consequence, we are developing imaginative ideas for continued engagement with the UK through the use of technologies to support distance education, school and university links and support for the marketing UK qualifications.

  10.  We remain committed to fulfilling our objectives of influencing ministers and senior officials inside the Palestinian Authority, primarily through work in institutional capacity building, and through pro-active information services. We are also building up engagement with up to 600 young opinion-formers, such as returned Chevening scholars and other alumni; while also reaching wider audiences of young adults through the learning of English and distance education.

  11.  Our commitment has also been demonstrated by including the territories in the Connecting Futures initiative which aims to build long-term relationships based on mutual understanding between young people in the UK and a range of different cultures and societies in the Arab and Muslim worlds.

  12.  As part of our strategy for maximising funding for programme activities, we have closed our Hebron branch and will close in Nablus next year. This will release funding from infrastructure and make more available for programme activity. Our presence in these towns will be maintained by providing information centres inside partner organisations.

  13.  Our key activities in the Palestinian territories are:

Supporting institutional and community development

  14.  We demonstrate the value of UK experience in assisting Palestinians in the development of their institutions and improving access to public services. We positively influence leading members of key Palestinian institutions, with whom we have built an enduring relationship, and act as multipliers for UK reputation. We engage with civil society, aiming to strengthen the professional (and often informal) associations that are agents for progress, creativity and prosperity.

    —  Our portfolio of donor assistance contracts include DfID's Health Management Strengthening Project, support to the Palestinian Legislative Council, and Gender and Law. We have procured books and journals for four Palestinian university libraries under EU funding. We are partners (along with the Welfare Association and Charities Aid Foundation) in the World Bank NGO Project. We have been contacted by the Qattan Foundation to assist in the establishment of a children's library in Gaza. We were contracted by the World Bank (using funds provided by the Danish government) to establish a Public Administration Network of Knowledge on the Internet.

    —  The Palestinian Rights Programme is in its fourth year of operation, supported by the FCO Human Rights Project Fund. The budget in 2001/02 was £200,000. Through it we work in partnership with local institutions. We are working with the National Plan of Action for the Palestinian Child in developing policies in Palestinian ministries that support children's rights. These policies were developed through a national campaign that involved consulting children about what is most important to them. Alongside this the ministries have been drafting the Palestinian Child Law, for approval by the PLC.

    —  Promoting images of diversity through children's literature. This started with an exhibition of children's literature and has led on to the translation of books into Arabic and the training of local authors to write new materials. This has taken place with the active involvement of local NGO's, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture. DfID has supported the initiative through a grant to a local NGO to produce reading materials.

    —  Cultural and educational projects such as the partnership between the Royal Court Theatre in London and young theatre professionals in Bethlehem and Ramallah, leading to plays by Palestinian playwrights being performed at the London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT).

Connecting Futures

  15.  The Connecting Futures initiative is designed to increase mutual understanding between young people of the UK and the Arab and Muslim worlds. The initiative will be rolled out over the next four years. The Palestinian Territories are among the ten priority countries or territories involved in the initiative.

    —  We are undertaking opinion research among young Palestinians which will guide our future activity in the areas of human rights and conflict resolution, and in support of school links, youth group exchanges, youth leadership capacity training, and in improving understanding between young people of different societies and cultures.

The British Council

May 2002

7   Not printed. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 14 November 2002