The British Council: how cuts threaten its vital role across the world
There has been a UK representative of the British Council here since 1950; I will be the last one.
This is my week.
Monday – starts with a weekly staff meeting at the British High Commission, attended by colleagues from all UK government departments working here. It’s really important that I’m plugged into what others are doing across the UK mission, so that we are aligned with what others are doing, avoiding duplication and ensuring value for money for the UK taxpayer. I hear about UK defence diplomacy, Defra activity supporting anti-poaching, as well as getting the latest on UK policy and political events from the Head of Mission.
In the afternoon I attend the lighting of the Queen’s Beacon at a local school along with other commonwealth representatives, in honour of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.
Tuesday - starts with a breakfast meeting with the Minister of Education, who I recently accompanied to the Education World Forum in London, the largest gathering of education ministers in the world. This is the first chance I have had to check in with the minister and get his reflections and feedback from the event.
This is followed by a meeting with the Permanent Secretary and senior policy makers at the Ministry of Education to discuss our project supporting Girls’ Education. In this country there is a huge disparity of education between boys and girls which results in 27% of women not completing basic education. Our project is helping to address this important issue.
In the afternoon I visit the English exams sessions we are delivering as a service to support visa applications and for young people to study at UK universities. Without our English exams (IELTS) they would miss out on opportunities to study in the UK and on access to skilled jobs in the UK, for example in the health system where the UK has a shortage of specialist medical skills needed to keep the NHS running.
Wednesday – I visit a school in a rural, disadvantaged part of the country which has been twinned with schools in the West Midlands as part of the Commonwealth Connections programme, for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games. The children have planted trees in the school yard to raise awareness of climate change, at the same time as the schools in the West Midlands.
Malnutrition is an issue in this part of the country, so the school feeding programme is an important service to the community. I talk with the head teacher about some of the challenges and how improved education outcomes in the district have helped community development. It is great to see the teachers using the tree saplings provided by the British Council as a learning resource and using the free classroom materials that have been developed by our Schools Team.
Thursday – catching up with admin at the office. I am responsible for a team of 25 people as well as for having accountability for finances and office management. It’s important to have oversight as checks and balances over every pound of UK money that we spend in country. I take the opportunity to attend a safeguarding workshop led by regional colleagues to refresh my awareness and to be able to cascade and embed learning in the team. We operate in a high-risk country for gender-based violence, with weak reporting systems, so it is essential that we have robust and reliable reporting mechanisms across our activities. In the afternoon I meet with my Country Leadership Team for our regular catch ups; this is a great opportunity to listen to their concerns and to lead the collective decision-making.
Friday – I give a speech on the creative economy at a book launch by an upcoming young musician. He wrote a book on how to earn a living by making music, using a British Council grant under our creative connections programme. As part of his research, he collaborated with young musicians in Wales. The book will help thousands of young creatives with practical steps to start a music career. The event is very well attended by people in the local music industry, as well as by youth activists and creative entrepreneurs