Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence - Sixth Report


APPENDIX 3

Memorandum submitted by The British Council

THE BRITISH COUNCIL IN THE COUNTRIES OF THE TRANSCAUCASUS AND CENTRAL ASIA

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  1.  The first British Council operations in the Transcaucasus and Central Asia were established in 1994. Since then much has been achieved through the careful targeting of programmes and by ensuring that all activities complement and support other UK initiatives. However, no significant additional resources have been provided for the expansion that has taken place over the past five years. This expansion has only been possible by diverting funds from well-established, neighbouring directorates and the wider Europe, and by maximising the funding obtained from other UK and international sources. Current resources are severely limited, and restrict the Council's capacity to respond to major new opportunities, notably the need to increase access to quality English language learning, to contribute to the reform process and to promote the UK's role as a provider of education and training services throughout the region.

INTRODUCTION

  2.  The Council has three directorates in the Transcaucasus and Central Asia: these are in Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. There is also a British Council Information and Resource Centre in Georgia, and the organisation manages a limited number of programmes in Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan where it has no permanent presence.

  3.  Each Council directorate works closely with the British Embassy, UK government departments, other British agencies and companies, and international charitable foundations to promote cultural relations throughout the region. The Council's operations support the work of the FCO and British interests in the region by: encouraging progress towards democratic and economic reform; increasing knowledge of and respect for international standards of human rights; and raising knowledge and awareness of the UK and the English language, thus creating a better environment for the growth of British business.

  4.  The Council achieves its objectives through a series of targeted programmes which:

    —  promote wider and more effective learning of the English language;

    —  demonstrate that the UK is a committed partner in tackling key economic and democratic reform agendas;

    —  raise awareness of the UK's creativity, cultural diversity and recent achievements; and

    —  promote the UK's role as a leading provider of educational opportunity.

RESOURCES

  5.  Council operations in the Transcaucasus and Central Asia have a total budget of £1.5 million in 1998-99, £0.88 million of which comes from the Council's grant-in-aid. This represents approximately only 0.7 per cent of the global grant-in-aid (currently £127.3 million).

  6.  At the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Council had only a main directorate in Moscow and a regional directorate in St Petersburg, with very limited activity taking place elsewhere in the region. Shortly afterwards, operations began to expand, with English language teaching projects being set up in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. These were managed by specialist advisers based within universities or the British Embassy, and funded by the host country's Ministry of Education or the British Council's directorate in Russia.

  7.  In 1994, an English language teaching centre was established in Azerbaijan with funding from British Petroleum (now BP Amoco) and support from the British Council in Turkey. It developed into a full, independent directorate in 1998. Likewise, directorates were established in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in 1996, together with an Information and Resource centre in Georgia. All three directorates are led by a UK-appointed Director; programmes in Georgia are managed by a locally-appointed Country Manager.

  8.  This expansion of operations was funded from existing budgets in established, neighbouring directorates, notably Russia and Turkey, and the wider Europe. No additional funds were given to the Council for investment in the Transcaucasus and Central Asia by the FCO, in the form of a non-recurrent grant contribution to the British Council (such as those made available in 1990 to establish high-profile English language teaching programmes in Central Europe). However, there will be a small enhancement of £70,000 in the operational budgets for Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in 1999-2000, reflecting the increased priority placed on the region in the 1998 Comprehensive Spending Review. This will be re-deployed from existing budgets in Central and Eastern Europe.

  See Annexes for further information on a country by country basis.

ENGLISH LANGUAGE LEARNING

  9.  The majority of Council operations in this region began through involvement in the design and management of English language teaching reform programmes, focusing mainly on the development of new curricula, assessment procedures and materials at secondary and tertiary levels of state education. Such programmes are still a priority for all directorates, as they are considered to be essential for improving the quality of and access to English language learning. In turn, this promotes English as the main language of international communication and commerce in the region, thus linking it to the wider world. In addition, new textbooks and teaching materials developed under these programmes play a key role in changing young people's perceptions and knowledge of the UK: in this respect, the Council has been working with the BBC on developing and promoting ELT textbooks and related televisual materials.

  10.  The Council has a well-established teaching centre in Baku, which forms the core of its directorate in Azerbaijan. It is staffed by qualified, British teachers of English and provides teaching services for individuals and corporate clients, including large international oil and gas consortia, throughout the region. BP Amoco provided financial support and facilities for the establishment of a teaching centre in Baku in 1994. Although the centre has since been developed as an independent directorate in new premises, BP Amoco is still an important client and partner, which, as well as funding training for its own staff, sponsors English language courses for community and national associations, such as the Azerbaijan Olympic Committee.

  11.  The Council also supports key initiatives focusing on the professional development of English language teachers throughout the region. Through its English Teachers Contacts Scheme (ELTECS), conferences have been held in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan over the past six months, to both encourage networking and the establishment of professional associations for English language teaching specialists. These events have helped over 100 teachers and teacher trainers to develop their knowledge of current methodology and materials. ELTECS also provides opportunities for teachers and other English language specialists to study at specialist summer schools in the UK.

  12.  The Council is involved in the development of regional English language teaching programmes for military personnel, funded by the MoD's Peacekeeping English programme (ASSIST). A UK-appointed consultant has been based at the British Embassy in Turkmenistan for the past year, and he will continue to run workshops and language courses for military personnel through 1999-2000. Likewise, an English language teaching adviser has been appointed to establish similar programmes in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia from May 1999 onwards, based in Tblisi; and a two-week workshop for representatives from military training institutions has recently been held in Kazakhstan.

ELT PROGRAMMES IN THE REGION

Kazakhstan

  A twelve-month contract was signed in August 1998 for the provision of English language teaching to employees of the Karachaganak Operating Structure, a joint venture company with British Gas and AGIP being the leading partners. The project is to train approximately 700 Kazakh employees, ranging from supervisor to senior management, at the gas field in Aksai, North West Kazakhstan. The project also includes the establishment of a self-access learning and resource centre. There are four UK qualified and trained teachers at the site.

Azerbaijan

  A grant-funded project has been set up in partnership with the Ministry of Education to focus on the development of teacher training programmes, using the expertise of UK-based specialists and teachers from the teaching centre in Baku. These programmes include refugee teacher training and trainers have been sent out to the refugee areas of Mingechevir and Ganja. In addition, the Council has facilitated the establishment of the Azerbaijan Teachers' Association and has helped them to stock a resource centre in Baku, which serves the whole country.

ECONOMIC AND DEMOCRATIC REFORM

  13.  The Council has played a key role in the management of projects funded by bilateral and multilateral donor agencies, which focus on economic and democratic reform. These projects have predominantly been funded by the British Government's Know How Fund, the World Bank and the European Commission's TACIS programme. In each case, the Council has been appointed to manage the projects on a competitive tender basis, and is responsible for identifying key UK and other European Union partner organisations and specialists for implementation. Overall, the Council's involvement in this activity leads to the wider use of British expertise in the reform process throughout the region. The contract value of these projects in 1998-99 currently stands at over £4 million.

  14.  Countries in the Transcaucasus and Central Asia have participated in regional economic reform programmes funded by the Know How Fund and managed throughout the Former Soviet Union by the British Council. These programmes have included the Chancellor's Financial Sector Scheme (CFSS), which enabled 91 young professionals from all countries in the region (with the exception of Tajikistan) to gain practical experience of working in the financial sector of a free-market economy through short-term placements with leading firms in the UK's financial and business sectors. Another regional programme of this type is the Joint Industrial and Commercial Attachments Programme (JICAP) which has enabled a further 90 middle and senior managers from the region to work with their UK counterparts in the public and private sector. Whilst CFSS has come to an end, the Department for International Development (the government department responsible for the Know How Fund) is considering extending JICAP.

  15.  The Council also manages the Know How Fund's Regional Academic Partnerships (REAP) programme throughout the Former Soviet Union. This programme funds links between higher education institutions in the UK and the region to support the development of courses that will provide, in the medium-term, the human capital in key sectors to support economic reform and transition. Currently, there are 19 such links in the countries of the Transcaucasus and Central Asia, which focus on sectors such as: land and water resource management (Kazakhstan); journalism and the role of the press (Kyrgyzstan); and primary healthcare reform (Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan).

  16.  In 1998, the Council launched a programme on behalf of the John Smith Memorial Trust, which also received funding from the FCO and DFID. This initiative was developed to raise awareness of good governance issues amongst aspiring young leaders from specific countries in the Former Soviet Union and Commonwealth, and to inspire them to stimulate change in the sectors in which they are currently working. There were five participants from the region (from Armenia, Georgia and Kazakhstan), and they followed a 12 week programme in the UK which included meetings with leading politicians and public servants, a tailored lecture series and short-term placements in UK government departments and other relevant organisations.

  17.  Young professionals from the region have also participated in the British Council's European Networking Programme. This is a series of high level, multi-lateral conferences and seminars which bring together international specialists and future leaders to address issues of major importance to the wider Europe. There were seven participants from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Uzbekistan at the Antalya Conference held in November 1998; this event focused on the relationship between Europe and Turkey, and in particular, Turkey's relationship with the Transcaucasus and Central Asia.

ECONOMIC AND DEMOCRATIC REFORM PROJECTS

Uzbekistan

  A grant-funded programme has been established in two of the main silk-growing regions. This has aimed to provide the exchange of expertise between local craftspeople and UK designers, in order to encourage the development of small- and medium-sized enterprises. The programme has been sponsored by Marks and Spencer, and has resulted in the establishment of a business incubator centre in Fergana Valley.

Kazakhstan

  The Council organised a training event for parliamentary journalists in September 1998, with funding from the FCO's Human Rights Project Fund. The aim of this event was to promote professional, impartial reporting practices, and trainers were identified by the UK partner, the Thomson Foundation. The project was opened by the Speaker of Parliament and participants included the Parliamentary Press Secretary, as well as leading journalists from the government and private sector.

Kyrgyzstan

  The Council managed a three year project funded by the World Bank (£3.5 million) to support reform of social assistance programmes, which was completed in September 1998. The aim of the project was to develop a system to means test social benefit, so that it is targeted to the poorest. This was done through staff training and the development of an effective social policy function within the Ministry of Social Affairs.

RAISING AWARENESS OF THE UK'S CREATIVITY, CULTURAL DIVERSITY AND RECENT ACHIEVEMENTS

  18.  The long-term geographical and political isolation of all countries in the Transcaucasus and Central Asia has meant that there is generally limited knowledge of the UK. The Council aims to raise awareness of British culture, society and governance through the provision of materials within the information centres established in Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, and through providing public access to selected Internet and CD-ROM services at these centres.

  19.  The Council is developing its arts and cultural programmes in the region on a limited scale, predominantly where it has a permanent presence. These programmes are designed to feature the work of high-quality British artists, designers and performers and to encourage partnership with local artists. Particular focus is placed on highlighting the cultural diversity of the UK, and in reflecting the major interest in countries throughout the region in re-affirming their national identify and cultural growth.

  20.  Arts programmes have been arranged as part of British Weeks in Armenia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. These events have been co-ordinated by the British Embassy, in close association with the Council and the Department of Trade and Industry and provide a showcase for British companies working in the region. In 1999, a major British Week event is planned for Azerbaijan.

  21.  In addition, the Council's Visiting Arts Department has developed a joint initiative with the Open Society Fund (Soros Foundation) focusing on reform of the cultural industries in the Transcaucasus. A training event was held in the UK in November 1998 for 11 arts managers from Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. The participants had work placements with leading UK arts/production centres for one month, thus providing them with an insight into the cultural industries in the UK and enabling the participants to contribute to the reform and development of the cultural industries in their own countries.

  22.  There are plans to increase knowledge and awareness of countries in Central Asia within the UK by establishing school links using computer technology, and through head-teacher study visits. The Council's Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges (CBEVE) is currently negotiating with the Aga Khan Foundation to establish joint programmes of this type, with the participation of schools in Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

ARTS AND CULTURAL PROGRAMMES

Georgia

  In 1998, the Council designed and launched a major exhibition on "The Wardrops", a British family who did much to promote cultural relations between Georgia and the UK in the late 19th and early 20th century, through translations of Georgian poetry and literature and the promotion of Georgian music. The exhibition was shown in three major cities in Georgia and attracted funding from the FCO, as well as commercial sponsors.

Kazakhstan

  A Scottish Festival was held between September and December 1998, which included concerts, performance workshops, a design exhibition, book exhibitions and an exhibition on the Scottish Crown Jewels. These events were attended by over 15,000 people and attracted sponsorship from a number of UK companies, including British Airways, British Gas and BP Amoco. A "Multicultural Britain" festival is planned for 1999, which will include concerts given by British musicians, a performance by Kazakh, Kyrgyz and UK story-tellers, and a film festival.

UK AS A LEADING PROVIDER OF EDUCATION AND TRAINING

  23.  Increasingly, the Council is also building the UK's role as a leading provider of education and training for individuals, companies and relevant government departments throughout the region. It does this through the provision of information about and access to the UK education and training sector.

  24.  In Uzbekistan, the Council is managing a major scholarships programme on behalf of the prestigious President's Scheme (UMID). This provides scholarships for young Uzbeks to study in the UK, the USA and Japan, in order to equip them with the knowledge and skills required to contribute to the economic and democratic reform process in Uzbekistan. In the 1998-99 academic year, there are 110 Uzbek undergraduates and postgraduates studying at British universities under this programme and it is anticipated that this number will grow in the coming academic year.

  25.  There is also considerable growth in the market for British examinations throughout the Transcaucasus and Central Asia, which the Council administers. Predominantly, the market is for English language examinations, but there is also increasing interest in professional examinations, such as those offered by the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA).

  26.  Finally, there is an increase in the number of students from the region who are making self-funded visits to study at English language schools within the UK. The Council's centres in Azerbaijan, Georgia and Kazakhstan are planning to establish pilot placement schemes for these students in the coming year and it is anticipated that there would be a market for similar services in other countries in the region.

PROMOTING UK EDUCATION AND TRAINING

Armenia

  Growth in the financial services sector in Armenia has resulted in increased demand for access to international, professional qualifications. The Council administers examinations offered by the UK's Association of Chartered Accountants, and 110 candidates from Armenia took these examinations in 1998-99.

Azerbaijan

  The Council is organising an exhibition on British Education and Training in Baku as part of the British Week Trade Fair in October 1999. This will be targeted at the major international oil and gas companies based in the Caspian region.

SUMMARY

  27.  The Council's operations in the Transcaucasus and Central Asia have expanded rapidly over the past five years in support of UK interests, particularly in the areas of English language teaching, economic and democratic reform, and in raising awareness of the UK's creativity, cultural diversity and recent achievements. Over the past two years, the Council has also played an increasing role in promoting the UK as a leading provider of education and training.

  28.  Its programmes have made considerable impact for the UK, largely through careful targeting, and by ensuring that they are focused and complementary to those offered by the FCO through its Missions, government departments and other UK agencies. In addition, each directorate in the region has been successful in establishing effective working partnerships with other bilateral and multilateral agencies, thus attracting funding from a variety of different sources.

  29.  However, lack of resources is currently limiting the Council's capacity both to establish a permanent presence in all countries in the region and to respond adequately to new opportunities, specifically in the following areas:

    —  increasing access to and quality of English language teaching throughout the Transcaucasus and Central Asia;

    —  assisting the economic and democratic reform process;

    —  increasing promotion and access to UK education and training at a time when there is strong interest from governments and international businesses operating in the region; and

    —  building knowledge of and changing perceptions of the UK.

March 1999


 
previous page contents next page

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

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 27 July 1999